2.5 months in Seoul, South Korea
Monday, June 25, 2007
Beating the Seoul Heat
Seoul can get crazily overheated.. so overheated that Koreans have developed numerous ways to stay cool; cold foods like patbingsoo and naengmyun, and also 얼큰한 soups (foods that are piping hot and spicy but somehow refreshing at the same time) like boshintang, seafood soups, and other peppery stews.

But when it gets unbearably hot, the best way to escape the heat is simply to go somewhere cooler. This Saturday I sought out the coldest places in Seoul...

Attached to Lotte Department Store at Jamsil subway stop on Line 2 is a big ice skating rink, the biggest one in Korea:

It's surrounded by restaurants, cafes, shops, and arcades. You pay for entrance and to rent skates (they can convert your American or European shoe size to the Korean size). You can also buy a pair of one-size-fits-all gloves in various colors (I got pink) for 500 won. Go after 6 PM and ladies over 20 years old with a partner get 50% off admission!
Funnily enough, the best skaters on the ice were the oldest! My favorite was a diminutive ajummah in a bright purple floral shirt who gracefully skated circles around young couples.

The ice rink is cool without being too chilly, a plus if you're coming in from the sweltering outdoors wearing just shorts and a t-shirt. Normally, a huge round window on the ceiling lets light in, but when I went on Saturday it was covered up with tarp. Lotte World, the attached amusement park, is undergoing renovation right now-- I hear that someone died last year on a ride, and there have been problems with injuries and so forth...

Another great place to go to beat the heat, especially in the evening, is Chung-gae-chun. Get off at Gwanghwamun Station and walk straight till you get to a huge snail shell with water flowing out of it.

Chung-gae-chun used to be a large road, but was converted into a loooong stream with walkways and trees. The water is chilly and fast-flowing, and lots of people sit on the side of the stream to dangle their tired feet in the water. Take a look at this video:

It's a great place to bring a picnic snack or a few drinks and chat with friends while enjoying the cool breeze :) Being surrounded by college students in Sinchon where I live (and college students in New Haven), gives me a somewhat skewed perception of Koreans. It's easy to start to generalize from Sinchon and say Seoul-ites are all fashionable, slender, and young. Chungaechun, of course, had its share of dating couples, but it was nice to rub shoulders with the rest of the population... rambunctious families, young children trying to paddle in the water, and elderly couples.
posted by Jane @ 5:43 AM   2 comments
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Deciphering the Korean Text Message

My first time I went for a ride on the Korean subway I was surprised to see tons of young people with bowed heads and madly moving thumbs teeeextting away.

It's a huge part of the culture, but unfortunately learning how to read Korean text messages (문자) is not a standard part of Korean language class.

Some things that I eventually learned:

1. Laughing...
ㅋ ㅋ = kekekeke, cute laugh
ㅎㅎ = hahahaha

2. Sounds of happiness and complaint
잉 = eeeeeng... whining
음냐 = umnyah.. i want mommy!
냠냠쩝쩝 = yum yum chomp chomp .. this tastes good!

3. Abbreviating
Abbreviation happens a lot, just like in American text messages.. here are a few examples
난 = 나는 (I)
알써 = 알았어 (okay; got it)
이젠 = 이제는 (now)

4. Emoticons
ㅠ.ㅠ = crying face
(^_^) = normal happy face
^^ = happy face abbreviated
^.~ = wink!
-_- = disgusted/bored face
^^;; = sweating face
*^_^* = blushing face!

5. Flexible (wrong) spelling
구 =고 (and)
basically any word that when spoken, sounds different from the way it is actually spelled, might be spelled differently in a text msg

Trying to look up words and expression that didn't exist in the dictionary drove me crazy at first, but once I learned to just read text messages as though someone was speaking aloud to me, I was just fine.
PS~ If you have a prepaid foreigner's "Card Phone" like me you'll be relying on text messages as your major method of communication- very cheap compared to making phone calls!
posted by Jane @ 5:50 AM   1 comments
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Women: What You'll Need in Korea

It's always hard to figure out what goes in the suitcase and what stays at home before going on a long trip. I think it's even more complicated for females though--toiletries, clothes, and shoes can take up a ton of luggage room! Girls, when you're traveling to Korea, keep a few things in mind. Seoul, particularly the college districts, is packed with stores selling makeup, toiletries, and trendy clothes. However, some stuff is better quality in America; other things are better bought in Korea.. here's a comparison:

What to Pack: Things to bring from home
- Comfortable shoes: the most important thing, for me at least. Last year I made the mistake of buying most of my summer shoes in Korea =( You'll be doing a large amount of walking in Seoul, and the last thing you want is chafed, blistered feet while running up and down the stairs to the subway. Many shoes sold here are rough on the feet and scanty on foot-padding, so try to bring your most comfortable shoes from home, and shop for shoes that feel good on your feet before you come to Korea. I found that it's practical to bring 2 pairs of comfy high-heeled shoes in different colors, a pair of sneakers, a pair of comfortable flip flops (flip-flops are not that commonly worn here though), and a pair of comfy flats.
Another note: if your shoes break while you're here, you can visit a 수선, or shoe repair shop. These are little shacks that can be found on the street, the man inside will fix your shoes for a reasonable price--usually from 3,000 to 6,000 won (USD $3-$6) depending on what you need done.

- Makeup: yes, there are tons of makeup stores in Seoul. However, for concealers, powders, and foundations, stores sell very limited shades. They are pale and mostly yellow-based, so I'd recommend bringing your own if you are tanned or not Asian.

- Sunscreen: it can be very expensive here, and sometimes a bit too oily; if you have a preferred brand from home, bring it! On the other hand, high high SPF sunscreens are easily found in Korean stores.

- Bras and underwear: a lot of lingerie store only sell cup sizes A and B, and no matter what size you buy, it's pretty likely that your bra will feel as stiff as 2 coconut shells tied together. Bring that comfy Calvin Klein bra from home! Underwear selection is also limited, and thongs can be difficult to find.

- Pain reliever: many pain relievers are not as strong in Korea, so if you rely on your Advil or Tylenol then bring a bottle with you

- Sturdy clothes: there's definitely a "quality gap" with Korean clothes--good quality clothes are expensive in Korea, usually found in upscale department stores, while the cheap ones off the street will fall apart quickly. Another problem with buying clothes in Korea is that often when you come back home, you'll end finding them a bit too fobby to wear at home.

- Clothes that fit: if you wear size L in American clothes (or size 8+), it can be difficult to find clothes unless you go to Itaewon's special "big clothes" stores. I recommend bringing most of your wardrobe with you!

- Big fluffy bath towel: If you like wrapping yourself a nice big towel when you get out of the shower, bring one. The Korean version of a bath towel is a super-absorbent cloth that's about a fifth of the size of bath towels here.

- Deodorant: not much variety, kinda expensive here

- Nalgene: Take good care of your skin and drink lots of water! You'll be sweating a lot and Nalgenes are guaranteed to not break.

- Your nice handbags and wallets :) Coach, Gucci, and other brand names are super expensive here! And since most women dress up, you'll want to be carrying your nice-looking handbags.

What to Leave: Things it's better to buy once you arrive
- Skin care: Products such as face wash, lotion, and toner are great in Korea. There's a wide variety and most places give out tons of free samples so that you can try what you like best. Shops including the Face Shop, Innis Free, and Etude House sell very reasonably priced skin care products that have extracts of things such as green tea, honey, and all different kinds of fruit--definitely worth trying.

- Nail polish, lip gloss: don't worry about bringing these. The above stores will have them in every possible color of the rainbow! The quality is also pretty good--nail polish doesn't chip too badly and lip gloss is non-sticky. (You can also try makeup products in-store at most of these places--everywhere is kind of like Sephora ^_^ )

- Sponge/scrubber: Italy towels here are great! They're little green scrubby cloths with a pocket. You put your hand inside the pocket, put some soap on the towel, and scrub yourself clean in the shower; it's a great body exfoliator. Found in convenience stores like GS24 or Family Mart, and also jjimjilbangs (Korean sweat / bath- houses)

- Stationery and letter-writing supplies: Pretty stationery is popular here, especially among school-aged and college girls! Stores like Alpha Stationery and Artbox sell tons of cute writing papers, pens and pencils in a variety of colors, notebooks, and desk supplies. You might even want to bring some home for friends before heading back.

- Most toiletries like contact lens solution, shampoo, tampons, and pads can be found at drugstores and makeup stores here, as long as you're not picky about brand. Don't weigh your luggage down! The store Olive Young has a comprehensive selection of these toiletries.

- As a last resort, if you can't find what you need, try going to the district around Ewha College, a well-known women's university in Seoul. The place is packed with clothes, makeup, hair, and accessory stores.

posted by Jane @ 11:22 AM   1 comments
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