I've been in Korea for a whole week today - hooray! I've yet to panic and try to book a flight home, but I think I can attribute that to the fact that I'm treating this, in my head, like it's just a little vacation. I aggressively deny the fact that I now LIVE in Asia; I'm just visiting for a little while and I'll be home soon. If I come home, however, I'll lose the money on my plane ticket, and I'll owe John Wilkinson $20. The latter concerns me far more since it's tangled up with my pride.
So far, every day here has been busy busy busy. I'm rather glad; it hasn't given me time to really let it sink in that I'm in Asia. Most of the time I feel like I'm at camp, like I'm making new friends and going on adventures (to the grocery store, but that's much more of an adventure than you'd ever realize). The people at Jubilee have been more than amazing. I've only been here a week, and I already feel like I have friends. Not best friends yet, of course, but people who are excited to help me navigate this crazy new world.
Saturday morning, I met my new friend Jo for lunch. Since I don't have a phone, meeting people right now consists of walking to an unknown location and sitting, hoping the other person actually arrives. When I met Jo, we had arranged to meet at the Sinsa Station, exit 2. I arrived a few minutes early, so I found a bench and watched the crowds roll by for a while. About ten minutes in, I realized that I didn't know whether meeting at exit 2 meant the top of exit 2 or the bottom (there's a staircase that takes you into the subway), so I hopped down the steps. At the bottom, a tiny old Asian woman walked straight up to me, looked into my eyes, said something Korean, and walked away. She didn't seem angry, but the whole interaction was a more than a little strange. I decided I liked being upstairs better, so I headed back upstairs to wait.
When Jo arrived, we wandered around what I am told is the celebrity area of Seoul. Of course, I have ZERO concept of Korean celebrities, so I could have just as easily been wandering through escaped convicts and been none the wiser. We found a restaurant and Jo got an octopus on her plate. I have a picture of it, but I'm not quite sure the best way to make friends is by plastering their meals on the internet, so I'll hold off. Just know it was bizarre.
One of the things I'm liking most about Korea is that every foreigner I meet has a story. I know that everyone in the States has a story too, but everyone here has a weird story, one that lands them in Asia at the end, and it makes them feel like my kind of people. We all have something crazy in common - each foreigner I meet decided one day to uproot themselves and replant on the other side of the world. I love asking people to tell me stories, and it's fantastic to know that everyone here has an automatic one that's bound to be pretty exciting.
After lunch, Jo and I went to get gelato, which I'm pretty sure is my new love language. Kat was at the gelato place too (you have no idea how fun it is to walk in a restaurant in Asia and actually know someone), so Jo passed me off to her, and Kat and I headed up to Itaewon.
Itaewon is full of foreigners. Some of them are annoying as heck, which makes me a little embarrassed about my heritage, but for the most part it wasn't bad. Before I left, Ben gave me a list of places to go, and I was THRILLED to be able to cross one off:
We didn't spend a lot of time in Itaewon, so I don't have much else to report on that at the moment. I've heard from many different people that it's not an area I want to be in alone at night, so I'm planning to make all my trips with armed body guards.
Kat and I had a few hours to kill before the party we went to Saturday night, and she wanted to take a nap, so I decided to head out into Banpo and take some pictures of my surroundings. I'll post everything in a facebook album eventually, but here are a few to get you excited:
I live at the top of this hill. It's disappointingly horizontal in the picture, but it feels like I'm climbing straight up into the sky every single time I try to go home. In case you were wondering, my butt is going to be in fantastic shape by the time I return to the States.
The other teachers at my school have a very complex naming system for the streets. In Korea, they don't name streets - like at all. You have to give landmarks and hope the person you're meeting is competent. To keep track of all our friends, however, the other teachers began labeling the streets in our little neighborhood. I live on Green Salad street, and I take Merry Christmas street to get to work.
While I was on my picture-taking excursion, I decided to stop for a pedicure. Despite the fact that I'm known for being pretty girly, I've never had a pedicure in my life, and Asia seemed like the perfect place to start (yes, I'm subscribing to extreme stereotypes here). I thought this was likely another situation where taking pictures was a tad bit rude, so I don't have any action shots for you. However, I do have some commentary. When I walked in the shop, it was clear the girls spoke little English. I pointed to my toes and asked how much, and the girl closest to me held up the amount with her fingers. I smiled and nodded, and she led me to a seat. One of the other girls jumped up and changed the tv channel to something in English (Pirates of the Caribbean, to be precise), and the girls kept offering to bring me snacks and drinks. At one point, one of them said "five discount" and they took five dollars off my bill at the end.
I don't like being American here. I feel like I'm some kind of celebrity, and it's not that I don't like the attention (heaven knows I love attention); it's the fact that I don't feel like I deserve any of it. Why should I get free cookies and $5 off just because I'm white? I know they're being generous and I genuinely do appreciate it, but it's only one week in and I'm already starting to miss my anonymity. I don't like being treated in a different way because of my light hair and thin face. I don't like that the teenage boy at the convenience store giggles like a little girl when I walk in, and I don't like that people shout "I love white girls" when I walk by. I'm not that pretty. And to top it all off, I'm actually feeling painfully insecure everywhere I go. I've never felt more overweight and underdressed than I do here (and I spent four years in Oxford, for crying out loud!). The girls here are tiny tiny, and they are always dressed like they stepped off a runway. I've never had the best self-esteem, but I spend a lot of time wishing I could just be invisible. Not only do I feel awfully inferior to the women here, but it's magnified by the fact that I'm so noticeable wherever I go. The cotton dresses that used to make me feel pretty now feel like burlap sacks, and my flip flops practically scream "I have no fashion sense!". I don't feel any need to lose weight or buy new clothes per se, but I do already miss fitting in.
I'm not sure if the hour-by-hour rundown of my life is starting to annoy any of you, but it's kind of annoying me. On one hand, I know it'll be fun to look back on this first week and see all the things I did. But on the other hand, it's just life. Yes, the grocery store was hilarious because Heather thought the free sample lady said "dog" instead of "duck"... but in the end, it was just a grocery store. I love writing things out because it's just the way I process life, but I kind of feel like I've decided I'm more of a reporter than a participant in my own adventure. I take pictures of all the meals, and I write down funny things the kids say (for all you Brian fans, today he INSISTED that he is a pretty princess)... but it kind of distances me from what I'm doing. I'm not going to delete this post because I've already spent so much time working on it, but I think from now on, I'll stick to topical posts. This whole diary thing isn't working for me.
I don't mean to be such a downer. Here's a funny story to lighten the mood: I went to the bank today to open an account, and only one person in the whole place spoke English. Unfortunately for me, he was super attractive, so I couldn't even remember how to spell my name on the application. It took a while to cash my travelers checks, so I spent about an hour talking with this guy, and I was totally smitten by the time I left. I got back to my classroom and told Hana that I fell in love; we both laughed and went back to work. At the end of the day, one of my little girls told me she couldn't ride the shuttle home because she had to go to the bank to meet Miss Nikki's new boyfriend and see how handsome he was. Oops. :P