Thursday, February 28, 2013

Goodbye Seoul

Beneath Mapo Bridge (마포교) on the Han River. Taken by Ashley.
Today could have been a typical day, not unlike any other of the past month: language class, shopping, hanging out with friends at a bar. But it was special because it was the last typical day.

This morning, I went to my last Korean class at Ganada; I think normally the class period runs a full four weeks, so the last class should have been Friday, but tomorrow is Korean Independence Day, also known as Samil Day (삼일절), so everyone is on holiday. Between Samil Day, Seollal, and every Wednesday off, I feel like I haven't actually attended much class at all this month. But the final three hours were today. We went over 제30과 and also got our final exams (학기말시험, which we took on Tuesday) back. I suppose I scored all right... if you take into account my having studied for only a few hours and also coming down with a cold the day before the test. Eh, who am I kidding, I got an Asian F. Regardless, I know that I've learned a lot, and I'm ready to go back to Changwon and to my host family and use everything I've added to my Korean language arsenal.

In the afternoon, I went to 광장시장 (Gwangjang Market), which has fast become one of my favorite places in Seoul. It has tons of great Korean street food on the ground floor and a labyrinth of vintage clothes shops on the second and third floors. I promise I'll write more substantially about it in the near future, but suffice it to say that even though I primarily intended to wander around Dongdaemun and purposefully get lost in a different part of the city than I normally frequent, my feet somehow led me back to Gwangjang Market and I spent hours there browsing through racks of clothes and chatting with the shopkeepers in Korean.

And to top it all off, my friends and I all went to AcousticHolic again in the evening. It was partially a celebration of Jason's birthday (we surprised him with an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins) and partially a celebration of our last night in Seoul. Most of us will be leaving to go back to our respective placement cities tomorrow morning or afternoon, so this was the last chance for us to hear the amazing guitarists (and Guitar Jedi) and hang out. Toward the end of the evening, well past midnight, one of the co-owners of the bar was playing through a set mostly consisting of American pop songs, and everyone sang along to Marley's No Woman No Cry, Coldplay's Viva La Vida, Jason Mraz's I'm Yours, and many more. I even joined in on the djembe when he needed a beat for some song that kept getting faster and faster. It was tons of fun, reminding me why I love this place so much. I did promise everyone that I'd be back soon, maybe in April...

(As an aside, I bumped into two Swatties at AcousticHolic! They are my 동문, or fellow alumni of a different graduating year. I recognized Aejin vaguely; I believe we worked together on The Phoenix at some point. Her friend Austin was with her - another Swattie, but one I didn't recognize. They're both class of '10 and are working in Seoul at the moment. I was so surprised to see Swatties at this tiny bar. The world isn't small; it's tiny. This brings my total of Swatties I've met in Korea since last July to... eighteen! And that's not counting all the Swatties with whom I'm not acquainted that I met at President Chopp's event in Seoul. The actual count must be over four dozen... We're everywhere, folks.)

So that's that: my last full day in Seoul. Winter vacation is over! I've had an amazing time. This has without a doubt been one of the best winter vacations I've ever had, and that's mostly thanks to it being two months long and paid, to boot. But as soon as I get back to Changwon tomorrow evening, I have my work cut out for me. Classes begin on Monday and I haven't prepared a single lesson. (I mean, I technically only need to prepare two, but that's a lame justification.) 자... Spring semester, 시작!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Soundbox (사운드박스)

Katelyn and I watched this incredibly talented (and incredibly brave, for playing outdoors in below-freezing weather) band jamming on the streets of Hongdae last weekend. You can find lots of buskers in this neighborhood on evenings and weekends, and I always enjoy their music.

홍대의 공공장소에서 공연한 벤드들이 많아요. 지난번 주말에 제 친구 하고 같이 구경 하고 있었어요. 홍익공원에서 사람 많이 있고 분위기가 좋던데요. 추웠지만 이 연기자들은 관중에게 "핫" 느낌을 줬어요. 진짜 재능있네요!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thrift and Vintage in Hongdae

Pentatonix's a cappella version of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' Thrift Shop, everyone. Ever since I heard this song, I've been bent on doing some thrift shopping here in Korea. As a poor teacher, I'm thrilled when I find clothes for cheap. As an environmentally-conscious consumer, I support Reuse and Recycle and do not mind wearing clothes that have previously belonged to someone else, as long as they fit me and look awesome. Kudos to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for using music to make thrift shopping look cool. I wear your granddad's coat; I look incredible.

In Korea, it seems as if thrifting and secondhand shopping aren't a big thing. I think the idea of buying old and outdated items runs in opposition to a culture that puts a heavy emphasis on pulling ahead, having the newest and latest of anything (technology, fashion, etc.). Nevertheless, it does exist, manifesting in small and hard-to-find ways. Thrifting is largely like treasure hunting, anyway, so while you may not find an enormous Goodwill or Salvation Army in any strip mall in this country (or any strip malls, for that matter), there are still lots of places to look for your "vintage" fix.

I should first explain some of the things I've learned from experience, however. 중고 (junggo) is the Korean word for "secondhand" or "used", and a thrift shop can be referred to as a 중고품 가게 (junggo-poom ka-ge). "Vintage", on the other hand, does not necessarily refer to clothes from a few decades ago that have retained their style despite years of use. I admit I'm not totally sure how "vintage" is used in the US, but here in Korea, 빈티지 (bin-ti-ji, some excellent Konglish) could mean old knit sweaters and really ugly boots regardless of their year of manufacture. In other words, Korean "vintage" is a certain style of clothing and does not match up perfectly with what I imagine to be American vintage.

With all this in mind, I've been hunting around Hongdae for thrift stores and vintage clothes shops. I figured that, although this neighborhood is populated by young people who love fashion and are probably willing to pay top dollar to keep their wardrobes full and ahead of the curve, I'd be more likely to find any such stores here than in, say, Gangnam (too bougie) or the touristy areas of the city (too glitzy). And a lot of the "forward" Korean fashion is defined by the arguably tacky and unique items you can only find in a thrift store. I've found six vintage and/or thrift stores; some were successes, others not so much.

#1: Vintage Store. This is one of the first that I noticed in Hongdae. I realized after not too long that it is just another one of the hundreds of minuscule pop-up shops that sells only a handful of items for a super-select clientele. This corner shop is so small that it is literally a couple of clear walls put up outside of a building with strange, tacky clothes hung up on racks inside. It's the size of a walk-in closet. This store is Korean 빈티지, not actual thrift. Let's try again. [edit] This store no longer exists, but there are hundreds like it still around. Again, it's "vintage", but it's not thrift. Moving on... [/edit]

#2: Vintage Clothing KD (케이디). Although this store right around the corner from my apartment looks legit, I have walked by it half a dozen times at all different times of the day, and it has never been open. Either you need a secret password to get in somehow, or it has indefinitely closed shop. If you know anything about this vintage shop, do let me know!
#3: Pollala Museum/Mania Recycle Shop (뽈랄라 수집관). A 수집관 (sujibgwan) is a collectors' museum. While I had high hopes when I saw the words "recycle shop", this is actually a hobbyist's store full of retro action figurines, posters, and toys from anime, manga, and sci-fi genres. Basically, it's geek paradise. No clothes, though. Here's a link to some more photos on a Korean blog.
#4: Ropa Usada (로파우사다) is both a Korean brand of vintage clothing and a chain of secondhand clothes stores in Korea. Katelyn pointed out that ropa usada is literally Spanish for "used clothes". This small vintage jackpot is neatly organized but very dense; there's so much for sale that it's a bit overwhelming. Most of the wares are dated American-style clothes: shirts, hoodies, jeans, tees, skirts, hats (likely stuff that foreigners have left behind, amassed in bulk over the years), but there's nothing you couldn't find for a better price at an American Salvation Army.
#5: Cowboy Vintage Shop (카우보이). This one is probably the epitome of vintage in Hongdae. I must stress that while it is legit vintage, it's certainly not thrift. What I like most about the shop is the atmosphere: retro music blasting as you walk into the basement, crazy outfits on the mannequins that actually look good, all of the clothes organized with an eye for style and color, and lots of random accessories like vinyl records on the walls, a Disney-style Pinocchio marionette, and giant Coca-Cola pins. It's all very American in an unsurprisingly in-your-face kind of way. What I dislike about the shop is that while all of its wares must have come from the United States anytime between 1970 and 2012, including the mechanic's uniforms, the cowboy boots, and the University of Wherever sweatshirts, it's all priced as if it's the latest in Korean fashion. Expensive. So this place is fun to browse in, but if I really wanted anything here, I'd go back to the States to find an equivalent.

#6: Beautiful Store (아름다운가게). Finally, a real, honest-to-goodness thrift store! And this one has a social conscience, too. Like the Goodwill or Salvation Army stores, the money raised by these small stores (over a hundred in Korea) goes to charity. The organization's other goals include promoting fair trade, flea markets, volunteering, and recycling, helping marginalized people groups such as women, ex-convicts, and the homeless, and campaigning for the environment. Everything about this really is beautiful. The Beautiful Store in Hongdae is a very small basement shop with not a huge selection of clothes, but I did manage to find a really nice blazer buried beneath dozens of really ugly blazers for only ₩5,500! That's five bucks for a blazer. What a steal! I've noticed a few other Beautiful Stores in other places in Seoul that are larger than the Hongdae branch, so perhaps I will check those out later.

#7: Againuse (어게인유즈). Here's a good vintage store with a small but neat collection for guys and girls. It seems like the theme of the shop is getting clothes secondhand, which I admire. It shows that they're focusing on recycling and not just on a certain style. This shop is on the second story of one of the buildings on Hongdae's "Christmas tree street", not far from the new H&M.

That's it for now! I know for certain that there are many other small vintage shops tucked away in small alleys around Hongdae; this neighborhood is large and I've only seen a fraction of it in my few weeks here. However, I also know that stores of any kind in Hongdae come and go frequently; a shop will close suddenly and a new one will take its place. So, there's no telling what you'll be able to find if you visit in a few years, or even this summer. It's likely that there will be more thrift and secondhand stores in the future. I like the idea that thrifting in general is gaining more popularity in Korea. It's a good sign that a society is taking human over-consumption seriously if more people actively take part in recycling culture.

Oh, and I made a map of the places I found. So if you're ever in the area, you can look for them. If you know of other shops I should check out, let me know in a comment! I'll find it and add it to the map.

View Thrifty in Hongdae in a larger map

Just for kicks, I want to mention Hongdae Free Market, a flea market that specializes in handicraft and local artists' work. It takes place at 1pm every Saturday from March to November. Too bad I'm leaving at the end of this month! If I come back to Seoul later this year, though, I'll make it a point to visit the Free Market.

Lastly, speaking of markets, the holy grail of vintage and thrift shopping in Seoul has to be Gwangjang Market (광장시장) in Jongno. It reminded me of La Boqueria in Barcelona, but instead of wandering aimlessly through a dimly-lit labyrinth surrounded on every side by food, I wandered aimlessly through a dimly-lit labyrinth surrounded on every side by clothes and accessories. It's one of my favorite places to be in in Seoul, let alone shop!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Seoul in the 1960s

A photo of a Korean woman and her child as women wash their clothes in a stream. Taken in Seoul circa 1960 by Leroy Smothers.
I recently read an interesting news story in KoreaBang about a set of photos gaining interest on flickr. The photos were taken by a USAID worker who lived in South Korea during the 1950s and 1960s and were recently uploaded online by his son. In the set of nearly two hundred photos, there isn't a single photo that looks like the Korea people know today, and it is fascinating. I especially like the photos taken in Seoul and Jeju; they really give you a concrete anchor from which to base the observation that Korea has changed dramatically in only a few short centuries: a phenomenon popularly called the Miracle on the Han River.

The complete flickr set can be found by clicking here. A smaller set with a few choice photos can be found by clicking here. I highly encourage you to check them out!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Seoul Fortress

In-camera panorama by Julia of the view from around Bugaksan.
Today, Julia and I decided spontaneously to see something outside of Hongdae and traveled halfway across town to hike the Seoul Fortress trail. We had a bit of trouble with the directions at first, but once we finally made it to the six-hundred-year-old wall, we knew it was worth all our time. The views were amazing and the parks we wandered through were quiet and very peaceful. I was constantly taken aback at how enormous the city of Seoul is every time we reached a new viewpoint. This city is gorgeous.
A promontory at Samcheong Park (삼청공원), by Mt. Bugak (북악산).
Julia and me at Waryong Park (와룡공원), or at least the sign by its entrance.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Black Hair, Brown Eyes

Two Koreal Life things today: I got my hair cut and I had to call the landlord about a leaking faucet. I'd like to think that these two opportunities to use my broken Korean in real-life situations makes up for the fact that, otherwise, I did absolutely nothing productive today.

First, the haircut. I'd been tempted for a while to "be frivolous", as a friend put it, and do something more off-the-wall with my hair. It seems that everywhere you look in Seoul, especially in Hongdae, people have their hair dyed, permed, and styled in crazy fashions, men and women alike. Many of my American friends have gone the same route and splurged on a new hairstyle.

On the other hand, I've got a bit of a complex when it comes to changing my hair, especially with regard to color. Yes, in college, I did bleach and dye my hair; it was a fantastic shade of maroon for several months. But ever since my hair returned to its normal black, I haven't thought about going back. I think a part of it has to do with being in Korea. I feel like I don't want to change my hairstyle these days because everyone does it, and maybe the way to be unique -- as an Asian -- here in Korea is to remain completely normal. Also, and this is more important, I can't shake the thought that the bleaching and perming that has become so ubiquitous has its roots in the culturally ingrained notion that Western faces and heads are more beautiful than natural Korean looks. Am I about to get very controversial? Sure.

In Korea, "white" is beautiful. A pale complexion is prized and many women go out of their way to prevent a tan. It doesn't surprise me that there is a prejudice toward a certain skin color, since this kind of look-ism exists in all cultures in different forms. But it's not just skin. The most beautiful Korean woman is not only pale, but also tall and skinny, and has large eyes and wavy brown hair. Look around at all the advertisements and posters featuring any of Korea's hundreds of music and TV personalities: the majority of them have faces and hair all perfectly sculpted to appear distinctly un-Asian.

Honestly, when I say that "white" is beautiful in Korea, I fully acknowledge the ambiguity of that statement: white is not just a skin color but also a race. And it seems to me that the beauty standards in Korea are greatly influenced by those of white-majority countries such as the US. Do Koreans explicitly want to look like white Americans? No, of course not. But American culture has such an undeniably strong presence in Korea that it's easy to see how our standards have rubbed off on theirs.

I wonder every day now, when I see beautiful Koreans walking down the street with unnatural hair, "What's wrong with straight and black?"

So there's my complex. I want to dye my hair because I think it would look cool and because it does seem like the kind of "when in Rome" thing to do while I have the opportunity. But I can't help but question: why would it look cool? Why do I want to do what all young Koreans do? Does changing my hair play into a kind of pervasive insecurity that Asians have over the way they look naturally? Does it reinforce the power of the US's (cross-)cultural hegemony?

Furthermore, I've thought about the message I send to my Korean students with my appearance. Perhaps they were surprised last September when the American English teacher they'd heard they were going to get turned out to be Asian (the assumption being, of course, that all Americans are white). But even after the novelty of an Asian-American English teacher wore off, I think I still managed to have an indirect influence on them. My co-teacher told me flat-out that, from what she could observe, my students felt more comfortable around me because I physically resembled them. That, in addition to my weird insistence on eating lunch with them and talking to them in between classes -- something the white Canadian English teacher who preceded me never did -- puts me more in the position of friend and possible role model than of aloof, classroom authority figure.

Thus, when I think about the complexities surrounding my identities as Asian and American and my role as a teacher, I realize that what I choose to do with my face, hair, and clothes says a lot to my students, maybe more than I've noticed or have cared to think. I don't have to just tell my students that they are already beautiful people no matter how they look, I can show them how to have black hair and rock it. It's similar to how, rather than simply tell my students that exercise is important, I can also run into them while working out at the school gym and show them how to do it. For my students' sake, perhaps it's better to represent the natural me and not give in to whatever the Mainstream Monster dictates is cool or beautiful.

Okay, I'll stop there. Let me just add that vanity is not even the issue here, although it is my decided lack of vanity -- plus lack of disposable income -- that persuaded me eventually to get a simple ($15) haircut instead of a ($100) perm-and-dye job today at a hip salon just a few minutes down the street called Ekihair.

Speaking of Tina Cohen-Chang... (from Glee Wikia)
Oh, yes, and the part of this story that is Koreal Life is the fact that I called ahead to place my appointment and chatted briefly with my hairdresser in what little Korean I know, and although I didn't understand every word, I managed to get my point across. For example, while listening absent-mindedly to the music playing in the salon, I realized so my shock that it was not PSY's original Gangnam Style being aired, but the Glee cover instead. I tried to explain this to my hairdresser, who had assumed that it was Hyun-a. (I thought: can't she tell that Jenna Ushkowitz's singing has an unmistakable American accent?) Eventually, I whipped out my phone to show her the video of Glee's performance of Gangnam Style and pointed out Tina, saying that she was an 입양한인 (Korean person adopted abroad).

In the end, although my hair turned out looking very average and not K-pop-star-awesome, I appreciated the chance to practice speaking Korean and use vocabulary and grammar that I've learned recently.

Second, the leaky faucet. I realized as soon as I called the landlord that I didn't know how to say "The faucet is leaking" in Korean, so I quickly looked it up. (싱크대 수도꼭지가 조금 물 새하고 있어요.) As I type this, he is in the kitchen fixing it up. I'm proud to say that all of our interactions have gone smoothly, despite them being in Korean. I think back to seven months ago, when I first arrived in Korea, and I realize that I wouldn't even have had the guts to call a landlord then, let alone the language skills to explain my problems, and do it politely on top of that. But now, I can. Hurrah!

Monday, February 18, 2013

LanguageCast Hongdae

클로리스 티 & 커피에는 언어 교환. Photo by Katelyn
Language exchange! Echange linguistique! 언어 교환! Tonight, I discovered something amazing that happens every week -- multiple times a week, actually -- in Seoul: LanguageCast.

The gist of it is that dozens of people descend upon a sponsoring cafe solely to converse with other people in many different languages. There are tables designated for French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Korean, English, Chinese, and probably more. The crowds were huge at the Hongdae location, which I attended tonight; other exchanges take place throughout the week in Gangnam and near Korea University (mostly, I gather, for English-Korean exchanges).

I was overwhelmed when I walked into Chloris Tea & Coffee and heard the babble of so much conversation in so many languages. I could tell that some Koreans, unaware that a special event was going on, were also overwhelmed and also confused. But there were also many Koreans purposefully there, helping foreigners practice Korean or practicing other languages with foreigners. I ordered a latte and headed straight for the French table, and I basically stayed there all night, reviving my rusty French with folks from Paris and Marseille (I met some French-born Koreans for the first time!) and other francophones from Korea and the US.

There was also the opportunity to practice Korean, of course, which I did. And I tried a little bit of Mandarin with a Taiwanese woman but only managed to disappoint her and severely embarrass myself.  Too many languages in my brain results in 언어를 헷갈랴요 (mixing them all up)! Yet the lingua franca seemed to be English here; the event organizers were English-speaking Koreans, anyhow. Oh! I have to mention that the organizers are the people who run, the website where I self-studied Korean for a month before even arriving here. I was so surprised to see Hyunwoo, the podcast host whose photos and videos are all over the site, in person for the first time.

Overall, it's hard to describe the general 분위기 (atmosphere) of the place. It's frenetic, like a busy marketplace, but also very fun. There were so many interesting people to meet, from impressive polyglots to total beginners. Time simply flew by from 7:30-11:30 pm. For the last hour, it was very quiet and only the French table remained (even after all the actual French people had left), but I was still hooked, and I was thinking, "If only I could do this every evening!" Alas, the Hongdae meetup occurs only on Mondays, which means next Monday is actually the last chance I have to attend! 어떻게? :(

In conclusion... 오늘 레인귀즈카스트 다녔으니까 기분이 종말 좋네요! 다음 번에 다시 갈거예요. 그 때 한국말을 연습할것 같아요... 아니면 프랑스어를 또 이야기를 나눌거예요! 몹시 바라다!

(Translation: I feel great from having gone to the LanguageCast today! I'm going to go again next time. Then I'll maybe practice Korean... or converse in French again! I can't wait!)

Friday, February 15, 2013


This is the Guitar Jedi. I don't know his real name, but his students call him that, and so will I. He is one of the owners of AcousticHolic, my new favorite place in Korea.

Kristen and I went looking for a swing dance club in Hongdae on a Saturday evening two weeks ago. Although we found the club, it was closed, so we decided to look for anywhere else to hang out. We were walking back toward our apartment when we heard music coming from the basement of a building. It was the bar called AcousticHolic that we'd walked by every day since moving in. This bar is literally around the corner from our place; you could walk from our door to it in a minute.
AcousticHolic, exterior.
We thought, why not? Some beers and live music are never a bad choice. So, we went in, and we didn't leave again until well past midnight. It was really serendipitous that we came when we did: there was a performance going on, and we settled in quietly to listen to a mind-blowingly talented guitarist play this:
It only took us a few minutes to get hooked. We got drinks and settled in for what was sure to be an amazing night. We also texted Katelyn and demanded that she come, since she was back at the apartment, singularly unaware that there was amazing music being made just down the street. The fingerstyle guitarist, 정선호, finished his set, and he was followed by a blues guitar master and then Guitar Jedi himself. I could have listened to them play for days. As it was, I only stayed for four hours!

I think for most of the night I was just in awe of how skilled every performer was. It made no sense to me that they were playing for an audience of a little over a dozen instead of in a huge concert hall with thousands of crazy fans. But from conversing with the bartenders and some other people, I gathered that all of the performers were music teachers and musicians who simply decided to have a space to jam together almost every night of the week, financed by turning the space into a bar. It was almost like a guitar 동아리 that we stumbled into; everyone knew each other and were friends. Given that, Kristen and I stuck out like sore thumbs as the only foreigners there. I got the impression that not many non-Koreans knew about this place, but that made it all the more special.

We didn't hesitate to tell all of our Fulbright friends about it, though, and the next weekend, a dozen Americans descended upon the tiny bar, much to the bemusement of the owners and performers. I wasn't there then, but I heard that it was just as good as last time -- so our first visit wasn't a fluke -- and I resolved to go again soon.
Acoustic Holic, interior. The stage and the table we're sitting out make the shape of a guitar! So cute.
The latest visit was yesterday for February 14th, Kristen's birthday. Our apartment planned a small surprise. After a nice dinner out at an Indian restaurant, we went to AcousticHolic. However, it wasn't just us. Once again, a bunch of Fulbright friends were there to celebrate. We also managed to get ahold of Kristen's family members, who were scattered across four time zones, on Skype to join in on the fun. Kristen, who loves music, friends, and family... and surprises... had a great time, and I'm sure everyone else did, too.

I suppose I can't leave out the best part, even though it's a bit embarrassing... After midnight was a sort of open mic time. It'd piqued my interest when I first heard about it; that is, until I realized that the open mic was really just for the guitar masters to jam more and impress everyone with the quality of their fooling around. My silly pop songs and I couldn't hold a candle to them. But apparently my friends had been hyping up my so-called skills as a singer and musician while I wasn't around, and they peer pressured me to sing a song or two that night. I caved when Kristen said I had to do it for her birthday. It being Valentine's Day, I decided to sing Kina Grannis' "Valentine" with Katelyn: the song we performed together for the ETA Talent Show last summer. Without any practice or warmup, it wasn't great, but it sure was fun!

A guy who works at AcousticHolic as a bartender also performs there regularly. He's a pianist and has a very beautiful, soulful voice. I guess you could say I made him into a "target friend" ever since I first heard him sing; seriously, with his level of talent he should be famous, and I enjoy the company of talented musicians. Well, after I sang "Valentine" and John Legend's "Ordinary People", he told me we should sing together again sometime. Success!

So if you ever ask me what my favorite part about living in Seoul for a month was, I probably won't even hesitate before I start telling you all about AcousticHolic and what a great, unexpected find it was for my friends and me. I'll be back there soon!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's blah blah whatever

February 14th is Valentine's Day in many countries. Most cultures celebrate with customs of gift-giving and symbols of love, either romantic, platonic, or familial. It's no surprise to me that Valentine's Day is very popular in Korea. At least, it's popular among the younger generations. Mostly high school students, actually. High school girls. They're the demographic behind Korea's obsession with all things cutesy and chocolaty.

The tradition nowadays is for girls to give gifts (chocolate, usually) to their boyfriends on February 14th. Do the boys give gifts, too? They're apparently not obligated to this time. But come March 14th, it's "White Day", the time for boys to reciprocate their romantic feelings and buy their girlfriends candy... or other, perhaps more expensive, gifts.

It doesn't stop there. May 14th is Rose Day, for couples to give each other roses. July 14th is Silver Day, for couples to give each other silver rings and other jewelry. October 14th is Wine Day. Thanks to rampant consumerism, Korea now has a "Special Day" on the fourteenth of every month. And they're not just for couples. April 14th is Black Day, a day for singles to eat black soybean-paste noodles (jjajangmyeon, which I personally find delicious) and commiserate over their singleness.

(For a detailed explanation of all twelve Special Days -- plus one that doesn't fall on a fourteenth -- click here!)

I think all of this is hilarious, but also a little bit too heteronormative for my taste. Also, I've never celebrated Valentine's Day myself, and although I am totally for doing cute things for your loved ones, I don't think very highly of building an entire industry out of it. Case in point, the United States. I'm glad I missed out on the pink and red hearts adorning every store display at the mall. At least the tacky decorations aren't as ubiquitous here in Seoul. Or maybe it's just because I'm avoiding the most popular shopping districts. Anyway, it's the epitome of Korea-cute to have all of these Special Days for couples, and Valentine's is the king of them all. So what am I doing tonight?

Well, February 14th happens to be my friend Kristen's birthday, so my apartmentmates and I are going out to celebrate with dinner and then go to Acoustic Holic, which I haven't written about yet but will soon because it's aaaawwweeesome. I'm excited to be going again tonight. And I'll buy myself my own chocolate (tomorrow, when it's all on sale), thank you very much.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Hungry in Hongdae

My apartmentmates and I started a joint tumblr dedicated solely to documenting all of the great food we've been eating in Hongdae. It's called Hungry in Hongdae, and you can click on this link to see it. (It's also on the navigation bar now.) Basically, it's just photos of food, restaurants, and screenshots of Google maps that show where each food spot is located. Mouse over the top right corner of each photo to see more information, permalinks, and more.
Want to know what this is? Visit Hungry in Hongdae to find out!
Time for a Korean lesson!

I'm hungry. 배 겊아요. Peh go-pa-yo.
This is delicious! 맛있어요! Ma-shi-suh-yo!
I'm an Asian who likes taking pictures of food. 저는 음식의 사진을 찍는것이 좋아하는 아시아인입니다. Chonun eumshig-eh sajin-eul djingneungo-shi chowa-haneun a-she-a-een-imnida.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Happy Lunar New Year!

Yesterday was Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year! This differs only from "Chinese" New Year in that it is celebrated differently by a different culture; the date, however, is the same.

The word Seollal is 설날 in Korean. If you can read Hangul, the Korean alphabet, then you might notice that the individual syllables are seol (설) and nal (날). Seol refers to the new year, and nal means "day". Hence, New Year's Day. However, in Korean phonology, an syllable-initial "n" that follows a syllable-final "l" becomes elided or assimilated into the "l". Thus, instead of Seolnal, we celebrate Seollal.

To wish someone a Happy New Year in Korean, however, you don't even have to worry about linguistics. The traditional New Year's greeting is 새해 복 많이 받으세요. Let's break this down: 새해 (saehae) is another way to refer to the new year, using the native Korean words for "new" (새/sae) and "year" (해/hae). Next, 복 (bok) means "happiness", and 많이 (man-hee) means "much". Lastly, 받으세요 (padeuseyo) is a respectable way to ask someone to receive something. So, 새해 복 많이 받으세요, or Saehae bok manhee padeuseyo, means, "May you receive lots of new year's happiness (or blessings)!"

So, what did I do for Seollal? Well, the Korean tradition is to travel to see your family, make and eats lots of food, and perform some ancestral rights. In fact, it's very similar to the customs of Chuseok, only with different food and a different vibe. Chuseok is the most important Korean holiday, and pretty much everything shuts down invariably. Seollal is probably holiday number two. It's a bit more festive, less solemn, and also observed less. Maybe this is because I was in Seoul this time, but a lot more businesses and restaurants were open than I'd expected, and the city in general seemed no less empty than on any other Sunday morning.

On Sunday morning, my apartmentmates and I all woke up rather late and straggled to a lunch date at The Flying Pan Blue. This place is arguably one of the most famous restaurants (for tourists) in Seoul. It's located in Itaewon, the international district of the city, and specializes in European-style breakfast and brunch. By European-style breakfast, I mean eggs, pancakes, French toast, and delicious lattes. Although the meal was pricey, I think it was well worth it. Every time one of our dishes was brought out, everyone gasped, oohed, and aahed at how pretty it was, and how wonderful it would feel to have that deliciousness soon in our stomachs. And yes, it was delicious.

Mandu-making. Photo courtesy Jessica.
For dinner that night, we went to a fellow Fulbrighter's apartment for a mandu-making party. Mandu (만두) are Korean dumplings. Well, they're just dumplings. I guess what makes them Korean is that they're made in Korea, and they have kimchi in them.

Anyway, this little New Year's get-together was so much fun! Jessica and Connor got a ton of ingredients (dumpling skins, ground beef, mushrooms, rice noodles, veggies, kimchi, peppers, and more), gave us the low-down on how to properly fold a dumpling, and we all sat down on the ground to make them together. I've only made dumplings once before in my life, so mine weren't great.

They say that if your dumplings are ugly, then your future daughters are doomed to the same fate. We had a lot of fun predicting the various levels of misery we were all going to inflict on our progeny.

In the end, our company produced over six dozen lumpy, floury, misshapen, and delicious dumplings that we then cooked with 딱국 (rice cake soup) or pan-fried to crispy perfection. Then, we ate them all. And we also had wine and cake. Now if that doesn't make for a great dinner party, I don't know what does.
Our first batch of mandu!
And that was New Year's Day. But as is typical for Korean holidays, it stretches out over some time. My host family actually traveled from Changwon to Seoul for the new year, and this morning (Monday), they were still around. So, they invited me over to my host mother's mother's apartment in the northern part of the city for lunch. We had 만두떡국 (manu ddeokguk/dumpling rice cake soup), which is a traditional new year dish and other stuff. It was nice to see them on the holiday again. And now, I've met the extended family of my homestay family on both sides!

Happy New Year! 운수대통합니다! It's the year of the snake on the Chinese zodiac. So hiss a bit when you greet your Korean friends: ㅆ~새해 복 많이 받으ㅆ~세요! Okay, that was lame, I know.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Graduation Situation

CSHS' 1st graduating class! Congratulations!
Yesterday I escaped from -16°C Seoul to visit sunny Changwon. Well, Changwon was sunny, but it was still cold. The reason for my visit was twofold: 1) to visit my homestay, give them gifts and grab some extra clothes, and 2) to attend Changwon Science High School's graduation ceremony (졸업식/jeoleopshik).

As a reminder to my readers unfamiliar with the Korean education system, the school year begins in March and ends in December. Graduation, however, usually occurs in February, before the new year. Since I've been absent from my school for the past month and a half due to Fulbright winter vacation, I really wanted to go back and visit. Furthermore, my school is so new that this graduation ceremony was actually its first ever. Some of my second-year students whom I taught last fall were among CSHS's first graduating class, and I wanted to be there for this special occasion.

"Second-year?" you might ask. "Aren't Korean secondary schools three years long?" Yes, that is true: Normal middle and high schools are three years long. However, my school is caught up in the recent trend for specialized science high schools to put students on a fast track through an intense science and math curriculum that only takes two years (and does not include the 수능). It's increasingly becoming the norm that these students will apply to universities during their second year and even be accepted. In fact, science high schools are now evaluated by how many students they can get accepted into university early.

CSHS's first graduating class numbers 56. That's fifty-six second-year students who were accepted into college early. They're leaving behind 33 of their peers who were not accepted and must remain in high school to complete their third year.

This is all that I knew going into the ceremony, which began at 10:00am in my school's auditorium. I didn't know what else to expect, so, per my usual attitude, I just went in expecting nothing.

The first thing I really took note of was the group of students sitting in the front and center, fifty-six students dressed in maroon caps and gowns, and it made me do a double take. I fully realized then that this was a graduation ceremony: I wasn't here just to see my students, but to see them finally take that huge step out of high school and into the world beyond. Eleven years of extremely intense education and thousands of hours of studying and research projects was culminating in this. When I saw my students in their graduation garb, I was amazed. That, plus their new hairstyles and, for some, their new double-eyelids (thanks to plastic surgery), made them all look so grown-up.

Then, I greeted the other teachers, all of whom were pretty excited to see me. After all, I hadn't been on campus for almost two months. The small commotion caught the attention of the students, who were sitting ahead of us, and there was lots of head-turning and whispering: "Oh! Andrew Teacher is here!"

Finally, the ceremony started. The vice principal gave a speech explaining the (short) history of the school, the students' names were read, and they went up to get their diploma. This was followed by individual prizes and then maybe half a dozen more speeches, given by our school principal and a bunch of representatives from the various prestigious universities to which the students had been accepted. During these speeches, I obviously couldn't understand anything, so the gym teacher, next to whom I was sitting, tried whispering into my ear what was going on, but he didn't get very far, as English is not his forte. He then leaned over and whisper-asked me what "graduation situations" were like in the US. There were two things that struck me as being very different from a typical American high school graduation.

The first was that it was very calm and quiet for the entire hour. At my high school graduation, friends and family brought air horns, pots and pans, and posters and screamed in appreciation when their graduate's name was called and they walked across the stage. Here, there was merely polite applause. It was almost boring. I was later told by my co-teacher that many Korean high schools also had more boisterous (even violent, sometimes) graduation ceremonies and that CSHS was an outlier in its placidity.

The second thing that I had to wrap my head around was the heavy emphasis on college throughout the whole event. The graduation program didn't include a list of the graduates' names, only a table of statistics on how many students the school had and how many had been accepted into university. There was also a table that detailed how many graduates were going to which of the top research institutions in the country: Seoul National University (one), Yonsei University (three), Ewha (three), KAIST (nineteen), Postech (four or five), GIST (two), UNIST (two or three), and more. Then there were all the speeches. Every prestigious university offered congratulatory remarks, some gave awards, and no one could refrain from mentioning how wonderful and impressive it was for these students to have been so successful in the college application process.

All I could think about was how much that sucked for the thirty-three third-year students-to-be. Essentially, they were being subjected to a celebration of their peers' achievements and a reminder of their own "failure" at the same time.

There were, however, some touching moments. One representative from the first-year class, JP, gave a speech (which I didn't understand, but it elicited laughs from the audience from time to time) about his 선배들 (seonbaedeul/upperclassmen), and one of the graduates, YS, also gave a few words. At the end, there was a short slideshow video (set to Vitamin C's "Graduation Song", obviously) that gave everyone the feel-good vibes. But on the whole, this high school graduation was overwhelmingly... formal and stiff. It was ceremonial in the blander sense of the word.

Until the ceremony ended, however. Then, the picture-taking began, and everyone got their smartphones out to snap away nonstop. (This only added to the crazy number of cameras and video cameras already in the auditorium courtesy of local news agencies who were here to cover this important occasion. Yes, the first 졸업식 for this city's first specialized high school is totally newsworthy!)

Eventually, my students caught sight of me and dragged me into a bunch of photos. Quite a few of them were rather emotional, and all they could get out in English was, "Teacher, I miss you! Take a picture? I will really miss you!" And I am going to miss them all, too. My college prep students! Finally going off to college! It's such a grand milestone, and I am very gratified for having been able to witness it and share in it partly with them.

"Congratulations!" I said to every student I saw. "How do you feel right now?"

"So happy," said JY, who was in tears. He couldn't say anything else, but simply gave me a big hug.

"I'm... I'm... I'm sorry, Teacher," said YG. "I can't speak English well. I feel confused; I am happy and sad."

"Good," said WJ. "This is just commencement. It's the start of something new."

Friday, February 8, 2013

Do You Hear the South Korean Air Force Sing?

"Les Militaribles"; image from
If you were ever wondering if the South Korean (ROK) military was worried about North Korea's recent satellite launches, its bizarre hints of future rocket tests, or merely the fact that it is still technically at war with its neighbor... meh. Think again.

Given that the country's air force found the time to create a hilarious and brilliant parody of Les Misérables in the midst of a long, snowy winter in order "to lift spirits", somehow I don't think North Korea is much of a threat.

But this 13-minute mini-musical is amazing. I was surprised to hear conscripts singing so well, but as my friend pointed out, if two-year military service is mandatory for all able-bodied men of age in the country, then a dozen vocally trained guys are bound to find themselves in the air force. Since singing and acting is so much cooler than shoveling snow, I can only imagine how much fun these guys must have had making this project! Even the love interest -- because this is basically a musical K-drama, and there must be a love interest -- is a lieutenant (중위) in the airforce.

Watch this video (there are English subtitles!) and I guarantee you'll smile inside at the lengths to which Korea will go to 1) show off (Korean Javert > Russell Crowe, for serious), 2) boost its soldiers' and citizens' morale, and 3) prove they don't give a flip about North Korea.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

February in Seoul

I'm spending my February in Seoul, and it's been a blast so far!

The first order of business is to take Korean classes, which I am doing at a well-known hagwon, or academic institute, called Ganada. (The name comes from the first three letters of the Korean alphabet: ㄱ, ㄴ, and ㄷ, which, when reciting the alphabet, are read as ga na da.)

It's interesting to be back in the classroom setting as a student (instead of as a teacher). After my 분반시험 (placement test), I was put into an intermediate class. So far, I've been able to keep up with the class; it's not too difficult, but it's not below my level, either. I think this is pretty fair; I studied at an intermediate level during Orientation, and it's not like I've been improving much in the months since due to limited practice. My Ganada class is small and the pace is quick and intense, just like at Orientation -- we speed through one chapter a day, three hours a day, four mornings a week. Re-experiencing the confusion that comes with total immersion in a language class is good for me, and it will help me better understand what my own students feel in my English class.

Another interesting thing about Ganada, specifically for this month, is that there are a lot of other Fulbrighters taking classes there. There are five in my class alone! Instead of choosing from dozens of other hagwons or university programs (like at Yonsei or Korea University), about thirty Fulbrighters have settled for Ganada, presumably on account of its cheap price (a little over 400 bucks for each month-long program, including the textbook and workbook) and the freedom it allows us. Less class time means more time spent exploring this awesome city!

What I know I'll especially love exploring is the neighborhood where I'm living. It's called Hongdae, which is an abbreviation for the local university (학교 becomes 홍대). I wouldn't call this place a "college town" so much as a hub of all the young people in Seoul. At night the streets are filled with people shopping, going to bars and clubs, and watching street performances. The narrow alleys are practically lined with cute cafes and specialty boutiques. And the people who live and work here are described as "ultra-hip". It's exciting to be in such a vibrant atmosphere.

My friends and I got an apartment through Airbnb. It's a tiny, cute, and cozy place on a quieter street. The location is perfect: out of the way, but a quick walk from the subway station, a local grocery store, and all of the fun parts of Hongdae. My apartment mates and I, all Fulbright teachers, have had a great time already, cooking on our own (American food! Pasta!) and looking for good cafes to hang out at. I love this arrangement, and I'm really looking forward to the coming weeks.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Taiwan through Photographs or Lack Thereof

I like to take photos. Tons of photos. I like having my camera around my neck and looking for photogenic people and objects and coming home at the end of the day to upload hundreds of photos onto my computer so that I can share them with people.

But while I was sick in Taiwan, a lot of that part of me simply vanished. Still not quite recovered from travelers' sickness in my last few days in Korea, I spent most of my first few days sleeping and lounging around my grandparents' apartment in Taipei. When they wanted to take me somewhere, I went rather reluctantly and simply didn't bother to take my camera around with me. My thoughts were: I'll get out of the house and walk around -- fresh air will do me good -- and then I'll come right back and sleep some more.

As a result, I have relatively few photos from the two weeks I spent there. And I do mean relatively: there are still hundreds. But many of the places I visited I experienced without my camera, and to my surprise, I felt conflicted about this. On one hand, I felt frustrated when I arrived at a beautiful location and realized that I could not take a photo of it. It was like a part of my body was missing: my third eye was gone, so to speak. My grandparents took me to Yingge (鶯歌), Yang Ming Shan (陽明山), Wulai Falls (烏來), and several nice restaurants. I also went to Puli, in central Taiwan, and visited Sun Moon Lake and some aboriginal tribes while I was there. I have no photos of these beautiful places (although others do, and have sent me them).

On the other hand, I began to think that it was neat that I had given myself no way to record any part of the experience. Each landmark, exhibit, or vista point was going to be a one-time deal. I couldn't flip through a photo album a few days later to remember what that waterfall or that ancient clay pot looked like. This made me want to stay by Wulai Falls for a lot longer than I normally would have. I wanted to just watch it and memorize how grand and gorgeous it was, knowing that it'd be a long time before I ever saw it again.

The thing about photography is that once you get into it, it becomes difficult not to see the world through your camera lens instead of through your eyes. Eventually, if you don't watch yourself, you'll stop seeing the world the way you used to. There's less wonder in your gaze and more regard for good lighting and proper angles and all the things that a photographer takes advantage of to make a real place look -- to be quite honest -- kind of fake.

Then, when it comes to memory, all you can recall from a place you've visited, a party you've been to, or a person you've known is the dozen or so photographs you have of them. One thing photographs are supposed to do is to remind you of things from the past, to sharpen fuzzy recollections and revive languishing memories of good things. But I've discovered over the past few years, to no small amount of dismay, that my memory of things I have seen and done is increasingly poor, to the point that sometimes I can visualize some of the photos I took at an event but literally nothing else about it.

To bring this back to Taiwan... I always tell everyone who bothers to listen about how wonderful and beautiful Taiwan is, how generous its people are and how delicious its food is. (I promise I'm not biased in favor of my motherland or anything.) And usually I accompany these rants and raves with hundreds and hundreds of photos that I hope will prove my point. For example, a Facebook friend has already commented on my Taiwan album, saying, "omg andrew your pictures make me so happy and also make me miss taiwan so much!"

This time, for once, I didn't strive to take as many beautiful photographs as possible. I still took a lot. But I'm curious about how my memory will be shaped this time due to a lack of colored pixels showing me exactly where I went and what I did.

That said, I still want to post some photos. It's just habit now; I can't help it. Enjoy!
In Jinguashi, (金瓜石), an old mining town from Taiwan's colonized-by-Japan era, there is a gold museum where you can touch this enormous bullion. It was sticky. Jinguashi also has an ecological park and is generally very pretty. I had wanted to go to Jiufen instead, but that place is crawling with tourists.
I spent the two weeks with my grandparents and my uncle's family, including my two young cousins who couldn't possibly be any cuter. Here they all are at Jinguashi.
Here is a dog wearing a Jeremy Lin Knicks jersey. Taiwan pride!
Here is a photo taken by my friend Alex in Tamsui. This is a statue of Dr. George Leslie Mackay, a medical missionary who devoted his life to Taiwan from 1871-1901. His daughter Mary adopted a Taiwanese girl who eventually became my great-grandmother. Neat, I'm related to this guy. Wish I could grow a beard like that!
The geographical center of the island of Taiwan is located in Puli (埔里), and it is represented by this ugly pole. This photo was taken by a family friend, the superintendent of Puli's Christian Hospital. I shadowed him for a few days, getting to observe the workings of the hospital (and a handful of surgeries!) as well as taking unofficial trips with their mobile medical clinic to the mountainous rural areas outside the city.
This is me with some cute kids from a small Bunun (布農) village that I visited.
I may post more later... but I'm going to sleep now. I may also write more later, as I realize only now that this post doesn't really tell anyone anything about what I did. Do photographs suffice when words fail? Perhaps.

Monday, February 4, 2013

번데기! Scrumptious Silkworms and Swatties

There isn't much to say here. 번데기 (beondegi) is a popular Korean street food that is quite literally boiled silkworm chrysalises. Not something an American is used to eating. I ate one.

I only did it on a dare, and it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't met some friendly and lively French people at the hostel where I was staying the night before. We and I mostly lazed around the hostel and chatted all day, and then we decided to maybe go out and sightsee something before the sun set, so we set off for Changdeokgung, an ancient Joseon Dynasty palace. I've been before, in the summer, but in January after a recent snowfall, the place seemed quite different. It was tranquil, with fewer people around, and snow crunching beneath our feet.
In front of Changdeokgung in the winter with friends from France and Korea.
The linguistic situation was quite interesting with our group. Julie, Aurelie, and another Julie were traveling together, and Ludovic was joining them from China, where he'd been studying Chinese. Ludovic also asked his Korean friend to join us; she had been in the same program as him in China. She then brought along her cousin. (They were both very generous and treated us a lot that afternoon.)

So, there were four French people, two Koreans, and myself wandering around the ancient palace, switching continually between French, Chinese, and Korean. We caved to English when the other three languages didn't work. As someone who enjoys studying languages, I felt like all those years spent in classrooms and cramming vocabulary and grammar actually paid off. For once, I got to communicate with other people in their own primary language rather than mine, and I really enjoyed it, even though it was hard work.

Beondegi in a cup. From the Korea Blog.
After wandering around the palace, Julie said that she wanted to try silkworms. It was part of her carpe diem attitude while in Korea. So, she got a cupful of them from a street vendor and spent a good five minutes psyching herself up to spear one on a toothpick and pop it in her mouth. As soon as she did, she spit it out! But since there was still a lot left, I told Ludovic, "J'en mangerai un si tu fais le même!" (I'll eat one if you do, too!) We got little beondegi on toothpicks and counted to three, and then ate them!

Well, to my surprise, the little brown thing was juicy. Warm silkworm juice squirted out as soon as I bit into it, and it was a supremely unpleasant feeling. It didn't actually taste bad at first, kind of like some sort of roasted meat. But after I swallowed it, a bitter and nasty aftertaste was left on my tongue. I washed it down with some candy that Aurelie had. Ludovic also spit his out. And... that was that! I ate bugs, you guys. In Korea. With French people. Who speak Chinese. The things you can do while you're abroad...
Julie with her cup of silkworms. Ludovic looks on in interest...
Cathy and me. She interpreted the entire evening's program!
Some last things of note: that evening (the 19th), I attended an event for Swarthmore alumni held at the Lotte Hotel. Our college president was touring Asia and stopped by to talk to alumni, some prospective students, and mostly parents of students about the college's vision and some plans for the future. The event was nice because I saw a few old faces and also because the food was excellent! There were about a hundred people present, and I think I might have been the only non-Korean under 30. Ha! But it really was nice to see a bunch of Swatties together again, especially Cathy, a current Senior from whom I hadn't heard for several months. It reminded me that yes, I do miss college. Quite a bit sometimes. But it's also time for me to move on, stop the pining, and get to work on making a future for myself.

J Kwon and me.
Speaking of seeing Swatties, I forgot to mention earlier that I saw another friend, J Kwon, whom I hadn't seen in two years because he had to do his mandatory military service. We watched Cloud Atlas together (which was mind-blowingly good) and caught up on old times.

Now that I'm back in Seoul after all of that traveling, I look forward to reconnecting with other people! There are lots of old friends and peers in the city, and actually, four weeks is starting to look like not enough time to see them all!

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Flu

It was after a long and fun day of travel and skiing that disaster struck. Well, not disaster. But it did seem like bad news bears when I woke up at about four in the morning just about ready to hurl. I was nauseous for most of the night and made several trips to the bathroom to empty out everything I'd eaten that day, including that delicious Domino's pizza that my friends and I got to celebrate our skiing success. Fortunately, I neither woke up my roommates nor passed on whatever bug I had to them.

Ammy, Anna, and Katelyn, the snowboarding triplets.
But the next morning, which was supposed to begin day two of my ski trip, I still felt weak and slightly nauseous, and I wasn't sure if I'd be up to ski. I guess what pushed me into strapping into my boots was the thought of not making use of the lift ticket I'd already bought, the notion of sunk cost notwithstanding. In the end, I did do a few runs in the morning, and I even took two lifts up to the peak of Deogyusan, where the view was quite beautiful. But I only lasted for a few hours before I gave up, had a bowl of white rice for lunch, and then went over to the resort's 찜질방 to try to restore myself before the day was over.

It was very relaxing in the jjimjilbang, but I didn't stay for long before Anna and Katelyn came to find me and helped me snag a bus ride back to Seoul. I'm really thankful for how they and Ammy took care of me that morning, making me drink a lot of water and letting me take it easy. They thought it was kind of funny because I was fatigued, sensitive to light, and just generally out of it; to any outsider it would have seemed like I was just hungover (NB: I've never been hungover, but now I guess I know what it feels like...).

Skiing at night at Deogyusan, on fresh corduroy (the night before I got sick).
It took several hours to bus back to Seoul, and it was 9pm by the time I reached my hostel. I was feeling better -- less nauseous -- after having rested, but it had been a really, really long day, and I was still ready to pass out as soon as I checked in. Instead, though, I hung out in the common room of the hostel (I've stayed at the Hongdae Guesthouse 2.0: Yellow Submarine several times, and I'm friendly with their staff).

So... I got the flu. It was not fun being sick while abroad, while traveling while abroad, and while trying to enjoy myself. The residual symptoms actually lasted for about a week, following me across the ocean to Taiwan. But do you know what's nice about being sick while on vacation? You can do anything and everything you want or need to take care of yourself. I'm reminded of Katie, a friend of mine from college, who once told me that when one is sick, healing immediately becomes the highest priority and all other things (i.e. studying) must be put aside. I argued that work was more important... and for that reason, I often stayed sick for a long time. But now that I'm out of school (and also on paid vacation... that helps), I have time to let my body rest as much as it needs. This is a good thing.

Next up: One short day in the Emerald Special City with new friends from France, and then two weeks in Taiwan!

A personal update: Happy February! I'm based in Seoul for the duration of this month, taking Korean classes and chilling with friends. If you're around, let me know and we'll find good food to eat together!