2.5 months in Seoul, South Korea
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Leaving Tomorrow.. T.T
Getting up earlier than I have this entire summer -- 4:30 AM!! -- in order to take the airport shuttle from Seoul to Inchon, and then fly to Japan -- transfer --- and Chicago --- transfer -- and FINALLY NEW JERSEY!

Leaving Korea =(
it was definitely the most memorable trip of my life, but at the same time I'm looking forward to going back~

Things I'll Miss from Seoul
- being with halmunee, aunts, cousins, uncles who are all so completely comfortable with each other and spend long periods of time sitting on a hardwood floor joking and eating fruit
- chunsa classroom at Sogang; hearing Japanese-accented Korean, discussing things like "explaining directions" and "eating boshintang" for hours
- eating ddukbokki/ramen/kimbahp/chigae for like $3 at 4 AM
- crass Korean jokes that are nonetheless hilarious
- sparkling clean floors
- Korean barbecue + soju, a perfect combination
- having everything be little and cute, from stationary to kitchen appliances
- going to a restaurant and finishing everything in my plate without feeling pregnant
- hongdae club night
- working up a sweat in jjeemjeelbang, Korean sauna

Things I Miss in America
- understanding everything that is said around me (at least if it's in English)
- actually seeing people who do NOT have pale skin, dark hair, and Asian features
- hearing ebonics
- home family =)
- friends =]
- clothes in non-pastel or fluorescent colors that don't fall apart after 1 washing
- pancakes. fatty breakfast foods like bacon and eggs, especially from Cracker Barrel
- driving
- shopping without having the salespeople tail me.. actually, American shopping malls
- fake Chinese food- eg, lo mein, general tso's chicken
- inches, yards, pounds, miles.. not having to convert units in my head


posted by Jane @ 9:23 AM   23 comments
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Boshintang: Dog Meat Stew
So I've managed to be in Seoul for two months without seeing, trying, or catching the faintest whiff of the meat that Korea is notorious for.... DOG.
At the urging of Foster, who was eager to try it, we finally went to a boshintang restaurant today for dinner.

Discreetly nestled between a Japanese restaurant and a small cafe, the "보신탕" sign was easy to find, but also easy for queasy-stomached foreigners to avoid.
And a mere two minute walk from our goshitel in Sinchon!

We got to the restaurant, which specialized in boshintang and other summer dishes. I ordered samgyetang, a boiled chicken soup in which the chicken is stuffed with sweet rice, dates, and ginseng.

Foster stuck with the boshintang, along with an entire table of Korean men who ordered the same.

Boshintang is especially popular with Korean men in the summer because it is supposed to increase virility (South Korean men world's busiest lovers).

The boshintang smelled strongly of pepper and sesame leaf (ket-neep).

The actual meat resembled beef, except that it had pieces of skin still attached to it. And the stew came with a dipping paste for the meat.

According to Foster, the meat tastes like roast beef, but more tender and stringy.

I think he liked it.

Because he ate it all.

$9 a bowl.. try it if you're brave enough.


posted by Jane @ 8:22 AM   7 comments
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
last week in korea =,(
I can't believe I only have 9 days left here...
unbelievably sad, but at the same time excited for AMERICA~~ American speech, clothes, people.

Anyway, haven't updated for a while--parents and sister came to visit for a week!! Nonstop eating, traveling, meeting up with parents' old friends, and family.

Especially family.
For my entire life, I'd never spoken to or seen anyone related to my mom.... All of her family lived in Seoul and spoke only Korean. We finally got to meet, over a 6-hour dinner at my grandmother's house near Seoul National University.

It was the first time in our lives for my sister and I, and the first time in almost 30 years for my mother.

Meeting my (adorable) grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins for the first time was an experience I'll never forget. I'm so thankful that I could come to Korea this year, and discover family that I never knew I had.
posted by Jane @ 8:24 AM   2 comments
Thursday, August 10, 2006
"Subway Line 1", a critique of Korean society
Watched the Korean music 지하철1호선, or Subway Line 1, at the Hakchon Green Theater in Daehangro, Seoul last night. Daehangro is the theatre district of Seoul (and if you're interested, has a huge Filipino market every Sunday afternoon).

"Subway Line 1" follows the quest of a Chinese gyopo called Angel, a Korean girl who has been raised in China.

She comes to Seoul for the first time in order to search for a man who came to China and got her pregnant. (The play makes frequent allusions to the Korean folk tale of the woodcutter and the angel.)
Angel sees everything in Seoul with the eyes of an outsider, and as you can tell from the title, the play focuses on the hub of Seoul culture, the SUBWAY.

Because road traffic in Seoul is so bad, everyone in Seoul has to take the subway system at one point or another, whether they like it or not. The play satirizes a wide variety of characters, teenaged schoolchildren, alcoholics, the homeless, army guys, harried mothers, uncontrolled children, desperate housewives..

My particular favorites were the ancient grandmother who launched a 15 minute exposition on healthy poop (this aspect of Korean culture is so true!!), and the group of old, rich widowed ajummahs who were forced to take the subway instead of their usual taxi to catch the latest big department store sale:

(^^ these are all men dressed up as women, by the way)

The ubiquitous pojangmatchas, street carts which sell foods like ddukbokki and soondae.

Act one is hilarious, and act two ends on a tragic but thought-provoking note.
Won't say who dies.. go see for yourself!
By the way, if you're American, you'll find the American parody of the news program in Act 2 pretty interesting ;)


posted by Jane @ 2:56 AM   0 comments
Friday, August 04, 2006
Korean "Summer Dress Code"
Now that the swelteringly hot weather of Korean August has arrived, the newspapers have been putting out articles about dressing for the heat.
Let me rephrase "dressing for the heat". Dressing to avoid offending people, despite the heat.

From the Korea Times, "Dress Properly, or Don’t Complain of Stares".
By Korean college student Park Yu-rie.

She complains that every day, "
A naked leg is plastered on my leg. Another naked arm is stuck on my arm."
Naked leg. E.g. leg in shorts or skirt. Obscene, the nakedness of a female leg.
Not to speak of the fantasies that men have of naked arms.
She continues, "
And once again, I close my eyes as to avert my vision from staring at the nakedness. "
Every time I see someone's arm exposed in a t-shirt or tank top, it makes me feel faint as well. Right. This girl had better not go to a mokyoktang (Korean public bath), she'd be scarred for life.

A slightly more useful article, from the Chosunilbo: Summer Fashion No-No's and How to Avoid Them. I completely agree with the "No"'s, particularly:
"panties visible over a pair of low-rise pants -- plus, for good measure, some excessive flab around the tummy. "
...popularly called muffin tops in America, as shown below

- "wearing shirts so tight they show the shape of your nipples; wearing just a vest without anything inside it."
Men, this is just gross.
- "staggering around in 10 cm wedge heels when you can’t cross the street in time"
Though I have to admit that Korean women are pretty good at running in high heels.

The article also says that, "for men, wearing T-shirts with armpits soaked or discolored with perspiration" is a No, and informs us that "there are sweat-absorbing pads to be attached around armpits available on the market." Wow, having pads strapped to your armpits seems uncomfortable... ever heard of a thing called deodorant?


posted by Jane @ 9:49 PM   0 comments
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
"Gwoemul", or "The Host"
I'm generally not a fan of "Godzilla" monster type movies.

But with all the hype about the Korean-made movie "Gwaemul", its breaking of Korean box office records, and its international popularity at the Cannes Film Festival in France (it was called "the hottest title at this year's Cannes Film Festival"), I decided to give it a try.

It was my first time in a Korean movie theater watching a Korean movie.. no subtitles!

On the poster, the girl's screaming "Dad, save me!", as she's being taken away by the monster.

The movie starts out with a scene that made me afraid for Mark, the only Caucasian-looking guy visible in the theater. Haha. A white scientist rather bitchily orders his Korean subordinate to dump hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde into the Han River, despite environmental laws and the chemical's toxicity. As the Korean is protesting that the chemicals have health hazards, the white guy replies, "The Han River is a broad river. Let's try to have a broad mind."

In fact, the movie's attitude towards America and white English speakers in general was a bit confusing. A crazy looking white doctor later reveals to a cooperative gyopo that he is part of a plot to fool the nation of Korea.
However, besides the evil scientist and doctor, the movie also shows a heroic white man who goes against the fleeing Korean crowd and tries to fight off the gwaemul (he is later eaten). I think there is some deep political metaphor here that I am missing.

Anyway, the discarded chemicals and formaldehyde leads to the birth of a huge monster, "gwaemul". The actual gwaemul resembled a large computerized fish, and was a bit unrealistic-looking at first glance. But as the movie goes on, you begin to develop a deep dislike/fear of the monster, mostly because of the skillful animation, sound effects, and compelling plot. You'll be quite satisfied when it's finally killed.

As you can probably tell from the poster, "Gwaemul" emphasizes family, which is a a central concept in Korean culture. The movie focuses on a young schoolgirl and her father, who owns a modest snack stand. The father is rather incompetent and comical at the start of the movie, and his daughter is ashamed of him. But when the girl is snatched away by the monster, her father, grandfather, and siblings unite to look for her in the sewers of the Han River.

"Gwoemul"'s combination of moments of extreme horror or sadness with silly comic scenes is typically Korean. This is something which I found strange at first, being used to American horror flicks which are Serious Serious Serious all the way through. But the juxtaposition adds another dimension to the movie. You get a chance to catch your breath after an exciting scene. And in the end, I guess it makes the movie even scarier because you aren't expecting the horrific moments when they do finally come.

The movie doesn't fall into the pitfall of many Korean movies, that being overly maudlin and dramatic; but still definitely touches you emotionally.
The plot has plenty of twists and turns to keep you interested, and the acting somehow manages to combine humor, tragedy, and horror into one compelling production.

If you're in Korea, GO SEE GWEOMUL. And if you're not, it should be out in America around October ;)


posted by Jane @ 7:02 AM   0 comments
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