Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Chuseok Holiday

Top: silk worm Pupa... read and see what we did with these...
Bottom: traditional Korean attire worn during festivals and celebrations (this picture reminded me of my sisters and I)- I miss you guys. That day, everything reminded me of family... read on...

As I previously mentioned, the Chuseok holiday was this past week. Being that we don't get a lot of days off work, I decided to take full advantage of my 3 days off and go on a vacation... Seoul! I have a friend who lives in Seoul and we (Laura and I) stayed with him. He lives in the outskirts of Seoul in a smaller area. It was interesting to see his living situation and hear about his job and what not. Although it is very similar to how we do things in Gwangju, it is also very different. He works at a public school and teaches a lot of older students rather than just Elementary aged children. He lives in a huge building by himself. His close friends are not near by, not like at my school/ apartment where you just walk down the hall and all your friends are right there. Since Seoul is such a big city,(5th biggest city in the world) it is harder to get up with friends.... it's more of a process. They do not take cabs nearly as often as we do. They take the metro (subway) which is extremely convenient, cheap and fun but, I will say, it definitely takes a lot longer to get somewhere due to the size of the city, the congestion and the subway transfers and... now this really surprised me, the subway stops running from 12 am to 6 am- what the hell.... they compare themselves to NYC and NYC is the city that never sleeps)... kinda annoying. So, if you go out... like we did one night... we conveniently took the subway to our destination but then, since we wanted to stay out later, we had to take a cab home (it ended being about 20,000 plus won)- not bad split 3 ways.

So, Laura and I got a bus ticket from Gwangju to Seoul on Monday. Our bus left at 10:30 pm and we got into Seoul around 2 am. Once we got there, we talked to numerous cab drivers trying to give directions to Taylor's place (we would have taken the metro but it had already stopped for the evening). Finally, thank god... we came across a really nice cab driver who spoke excellent English. He got us to Taylor's safely and we spent the rest of the evening ... well actually, morning, chit chatting and drinking somik (our favorite drink).

On Tuesday ... a little hungover, we ventured out into the city and met up with one of Taylor's colleagues/friends. We had lunch and attempted to go to a Chuseok festival. The festival was cancelled due to horrendous amounts of rain (bee- Korean word for rain... thought I'd add that in there for ya). Honestly, I have not seen rain this bad since.... flood Floyd back in 1999. The Han river flooded and people's homes were ruined that day because of the rain. Not only was there rain but also crazy, gale force winds... screw the rain jacket and the umbrella. This type of rain was the kind you could not just mosey on through, it was telling us to get our asses inside!! Monsoon season definitely ended with a BANG! What else do you do when it's raining... you shop!! We all split up and went crazy, especially Laura... she was on a shopping mission. I found a pretty angora sweater but thats about it. They laugh at you when your attempting to purchase shoes, and that's what I really wanted. The biggest shoe size they make in the entire country is a 250 (about a 8 1/2 or 9 American).. this is my exact size. Now, just because they make it, doesn't mean they have it. Most stores don't carry this size or, they just don't have a lot of variety in this size so, my options are pretty much out the window. Now this really sucks because, on my way to Seoul, one of my only pair of flip flops broke (can you believe I came to Seoul and the sole of my shoe literally came off... NO LIE, that's my luck.. dammit)!!! The mall we went to was really neat... an outstanding convention and exhibition designated, Coex has a lot to offer: People from around the world visit the Coex Complex of 400,000m² for business, entertainment, leisure and cultural experiences. Coex is the largest underground mall in Asia, Coex Mall, with the Aquarium, CoexArtium, over 100 restaurants and the Kimchi Museum (Kimchi is so good... remember, the hot, spiced, marinated cabbage). One of these 100 places to eat was Sabarro... whoever knows me well knows that I LOVE Sabarro!! I had to have some pizza... it didn't quite compare to Crabtree Valley Mall's Sabarro pizza but it was still very savory and delicious!

After a long day of rain and shopping we went back to Taylor's, got ready and went out. The rain finally stopped by about 10 pm... ughhhh, thank god! We went to a place called Itaewon (Itawon is the most Americanized place in Seoul). Right when we got out of the subway, I felt like I was in NYC... mostly because of the city atmosphere mixed in with the very diverse groups of people, it was nice and homey! Ohhh man, we had been craving Mexican all day and Itaewon has several good Mexican places... so we were told. Well, we went to the first one- CLOSED... went to the next one, CLOSED! At this point we are all extremely moody because the 5 pm slice of pizza was just not doin it for us anymore. Maybe if we hadn't waited til 11 pm to eat dinner then this wouldn't be such a problem. Everything was closed... we finally had no choice but to eat at KFC.. hmmm....! I don't know if I told you this but, I have yet to see a rude person in Korea... well, until tonight. The Korean people work their asses off and keep all their emotions bottled up inside. This is why there is so many suicides each year. Anyway... I really felt like I was in America when some rude, white jackass decided to throw a fit at someone because they cut him in line at KFC! I forgot how us Americans can be... we don't take shit from anyone- I miss it! Itawon was very fun after we got some food in us! We spent tons of money on souvenirs and ended up making friends with some nice Americans and Canadians. We enjoyed a few drinks with them and then got a cab home.

Our last full day in Seoul was a wonderful, cultural experience. It was the official day of Chuseok and fall. Everywhere you looked, families were laughing, smiling and enjoying one another's company on the Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) holiday. It really made me miss my family. On this day, families travel to each other's homes and bring food and gifts to share. One of my favorite parts of the holiday is the girls and women wearing hanboks: the traditional Korean dress. It is often characterized by vibrant colors and simple lines without pockets. Although the term literally means "Korean clothing", hanbok today often refers specifically to hanbok of Joseon Dynasty and is worn as semi-formal or formal wear during traditional festivals and celebrations.
While in city hall, we happen to come across a traditional drum festival. It was rather incredible to see the Korean men and women play the jangu (special type of drum), they played with such pride and power- it really gave me a good feel for the culture. Later we went to the palace (Gyechgbokgung Palace where Emperor Yi Sun Sin lived) on the edge of town. This ancient palace has been in Korea for 100's of years. It was really neat because they built the city right around the palace, it almost feels kind of awkward. The palace grounds were beautiful and went on forever. We didn't even get to see all of the grounds because it got so late and they were closing. During the holiday they have lots of events going on (ancient themed activities, crafts, etc.). We all thought it would be fun to take part in one of the crafts so we made rice paper boxes.. it was really fun- I always love a good craft haha! When we left the palace we came across some interesting street snakes... warmed silk worm pupa- gotta try everything once, especially when your in a foreign country. We did.. doesn't the picture above look real appetizing!! They actually weren't that bad and, unlike Taylor... we didn't even wash them down with water (haha sorry Tay). They sort of tasted like some type of kidney or black bean. That night we made it back to Itaewon for some Mexican.. yessss, we finally got our fix. It was pretty funny when we asked for cheese dip and they brought out a little dish of squirt cheese, haha! God, I miss good cheese!

The day we have to leave is the day that it is absolutely gorgeous outside, ugh! So, our bus ride back to Gwangju was packed full and Laura and I were the only white people/Americans on the bus. Since the bus ride is somewhat lengthy, they always stop halfway through so you can go to the bathroom and what not. Now, I was sure that this stop lasted at least 15 minutes... ohhhh, was I wrong. As Laura and I are walking back to our bus the driver comes running up to us yelling in Korean and pointing to his watch. We quickly got on the bus... everyone was staring at us with a fierce, disgusted look (and I thought Koreans didn't get angry). I was so embarrassed.. I mean, I am one of the most punctual people I know.. I felt awful! Anywho, the day went on! How stupid.. one more day of work and then the weekend! It is still beyond me why they didn't just give us the whole week off. A lot of public schools had the whole week off!

Can you guess what we did this weekend... I bet you can.. more karaoke. We went to the same place we went for my birthday. It is called a Nori Bong (its a private room in which you sing karaoke, get drunk and eat). Since my friend Jacob got fired (bull shit reasons that don't make a bit of sense) we treated him to a night of bliss! It was probably one of the best times I have had out drinking without throwing up (sorry if thats too much information but, like my mother and sisters... i'm a light weight). Ohhh, good times in Gwangju!

I gotta say, I sure did love Seoul but I reallyyyy LOVE Gwangju (I mean hey, they are known for their good food and their art and two of my favorite things are food and art)!

Korean Facts/Randomness:

-All men are required to go to the army or some type of service after their first year of college
-It is amazing how many people come to S. Korea from all over the world. I have met people from: Great Britain, England, Nigeria, Africa, India, Canada, and numerous states in America.
- Generally, the women here have pretty small tushes. I saw in a store that they make pants with but plants in them- HAHA!
- Even though it is getting chilly here, the woman are still wearing short shorts... to keep their legs a tiny bit warmer, they wear skin colored tights/hose under their shorts (I saw a lot of this is Seoul).
- Did you know, they have acid rain here!
- No offense to the Koreans because I think they are wonderful but I have noticed that a lot of them can be and act very delicate and whinny. I saw a ton of people on the streets carrying a small bag together ("you take one handle, i'll take the other")
- My apartment is near a base so whenever I am on the track jogging, it's pretty cool to watch the jets flying right over my head (reminds me of Top Gun)
- So, I am attempting to learn Hangul (Korean Language/alphabet). My friend has several lessons printed out that I try to glance at every so often.
- Since the weather is so cool, i've been sleeping with my windows open instead of using the AC, it's SOOO nice! The only downfall is, they don't have screens on the windows so I gotta deal with the bugs comin in. Oh well, I feel like i'm camping haha! They sell mosquito nets that you can put around your bed (even though its cooling off, there are still mosquitos everywhere).. i'm thinking I might get a net haha.
- In Seoul they had a variety of fast food restaurants... I wish I could have gotten some Subway and Quiznos to take home. Here is what they had: Taco Bell, Baskin Robins, Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Burger King, Quiznos, Subway, Pizza Hut and Dominoes.
- This is random and has nothing to do with Korea but I know you (mom) wanna hear it, I miss my cats, especially Jack. When I was packing to move here, Jack sensed that I was leaving so he sprawled himself out on all my clothes before I put them in bags. As a result, a good amount of my clothes still have white hairs on them (it's a nice change to have that because usually there are long black Korean hairs everywhere.. it's comforting to have American, white kitty hairs instead)!

xoxox- EM :)

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