Monday, May 30, 2011

Okay, Korea. I get it.

Korea never misses an opportunity to remind me of how single I am. Whether it's nearly an entire month of weddings or three separate Valentine's Days, Korea seems to constantly be on the lookout for ways it can shove my unattached-ness right in my face. Apparently even climbing a mountain is a "couples-only" activity in K-land, which my friends and I didn't know until last night.

The weather here is absolutely beautiful right now, but I've been warned that summers make you want to die a thousand miserable deaths. Since summer is rapidly approaching, I'm trying to cram in as many outdoor activities as possible before I confine myself to my air-conditioned apartment until my contract is up (skype, anyone?). Yesterday after church, Kelsey, Lauren, and I decided to climb the (arguably) most famous mountain in Seoul - Namsan. On top of the mountain rests one of Seoul's most popular landmarks, Namsan Tower, and we wanted to get to the top of it.


Although it would have been so much fun to actually hike up the side, we knew we wouldn't get to the top until dusk, and what fun is that? Also, Lauren didn't have her inhaler with her, and Kelsey and I weren't in the mood to carry around a dead body. We opted for the cable cars.

In theory, the cable car should have been the first step on our romantic journey. When I imagine cable cars, I think of them like ski lifts or ferris wheel gondolas, perfect for snuggling and enjoying the view.

Just magical.

The cable car didn't take us quite to the top, so we still got a little bit of hiking in. In anticipation of walking up the side of a mountain, we had all worn, you know, normal shoes. However, we were embarrassingly under-dressed for the climb.

At the top, we followed the crowds to what we hoped would be a beautiful view of the city. It was, in fact, quite lovely, but we were surrounded by this.

Those are locks. Thousands and thousands and thousands of locks. With love letters.

Couples in Korea come to Namsan Tower to buy locks, write sappy messages on said locks, and attach them to the fence to show their unending love. Ahem. Thanks for that, Korea.

Surrounded by dozens of happy couples, Kelsey, Lauren, and I did the only thing we could - made fun of our loneliness.

 When there's another person, this makes a heart. 
When you're alone, it makes you look like a tool.

Puckering up for, um, no one.

 Apparently no matter how old you get or what country you're in, 
making out with yourself in public is still hilarious.

Before we left the land of commitment and sappiness, we had to do our part to make sure at least a few of these couples don't last. Bitterness loves company, right?

Take that, happiness!

Next, we headed toward the gift shop to buy some overpriced souvenirs. You know how much I hate junk, but you probably don't know that I sometimes collect bookmarks. I like buying things to remember places I've been, but I hate having worthless things; therefore, it makes perfect sense to buy bookmarks. They're cheap, they're pretty, and they keep me from having to use receipts and tissues to mark my page. So we searched the gift shop for bookmarks, and what did we come up with?

Yeah. His and hers bookmarks. Screw you, Korea.

Because we hadn't gotten to do much climbing, I insisted we follow a random path off the side of the mountain to see where it led. On the way down, we passed tons of people struggling to breathe as they climbed up, but we just laughed and kept going. When the path flattened out, we stopped to take some pictures before returning to the top.

 Pretty, no?

We set off up the hill with high spirits; going down was a piece of cake, so how hard could it really be to climb back up?

Turns out, very hard.

Of course, Korea took full advantage of yet another prime moment to remind me that I had no boyfriend. If I had, I could have made him push me up the hill while I played on my cell phone.

Now that's what boyfriends are for!

Back at the top, we rode the "fastest elevator in the world" to the top of the tower. My camera takes awful nighttime pictures, so I'm going to show you this picture I found online and pretend that it's mine.

We stared out the windows for a while, but it was getting late and we weren't really sure what time the cable cars stopped taking people down the mountain. Although climbing down wouldn't have been all that difficult, doing it in the dark might have posed a slight challenge, so we wanted to make sure we had a ride. We waited in line for a while, rode the cable car, walked to the subway station, and promptly fell asleep on the train.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Slaver seems to drip

Last night, I spent the night in Ilsan with my lovely friend Marlene. Ilsan is outside of Seoul, which means there are some patches of not-concrete here and there. Marlene lives close to a particularly lovely lake, and we had plans to have a picnic at said lake this afternoon.

In order to prepare for our picnic, we needed to make picnic foods. My parents have never packed more than a bucket of KFC in preparation for a picnic endeavor, but since we're in Korea, Marlene and I decided to be Korean and make kimbap.

Remember kimbap? Of course you do. It makes you sing this song:

My, those girls have some pretty hair.

Anyway, now that I've got that stuck in your head (you're welcome!), back to the story. 

Marlene had already made all the ingredients we needed when I arrived, so all we had to do was put the pieces together. 

Kimbap pieces.

Marlene is married to a Korean guy, so she's had a teensy bit of experience with kimbap. She made the first one, then I got to try.

Since we're chatty and both have some severe ADHD problems, it took us about two hours to make six rolls of kimbap. However, for two white girls, I'd say we did a pretty good job.

I'm totally packing kimbap in my kids' lunches. I know they'll probably get mercilessly mocked by the "normal" kids who have pb&j, but come on. Kimbap is cool.

You're probably wondering about the title of this blog post. While Marlene and I were working, we were also talking to a friend of hers in Japan on gmail. He'd type us a sentence in Japanese then use our best friend google translate to (somewhat) make it English. When we told him we were making kimbap, he sent us "slaver seems to drip," which we think means something along the lines of "my mouth is watering."

That's right; I just wrote an entire blog post just so I could use a funny sentence generated on google translate as my title. Well, that and so I could remind you of how great Mmmbop is. Did you know that song was nominated for not one, but two Grammys? Check it out. I'm so glad music has improved since 1998.

Oh wait...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The cheesiest post I've ever written

I want to write a blog post tonight, I really do. I just went through all my pictures to decide what story I would tell tonight, what event I would relive in words so everyone could have their standard glimpse into my life. As I looked at the pictures, I realized I couldn't pick just one event. I don't have any words to explain it, but I'm just really joyful right now. Today I went to church, went to a picnic at the park, played frisbee with my friends, ate at my favorite restaurant, and crashed a game night at my old church. Just one of those things would have made for an extraordinary Sunday, and yet I had all of them today, back to back to back. It was one of those days that make all the rest of the days worth the hassle.

Anyway, so I went through all my pictures to choose something to post about, and I just can't narrow it down. You're getting a hodge-podge of pictures of all the ways I'm so incredibly blessed. Angie, I hope you're not trying to read this at work because pictures are all I've got today. Pictures and joy. (Dude, has anyone ever written anything lamer than that? Probably not.)

My two favorites. I know, I know, I'm not supposed to have favorites. 
But really, how could you not love these faces more than the rest? :)

Taesun still doesn't speak much English, 
but it's okay since most of our "lessons" consist of him just making me laugh by doing this.

There's a face you all know and love. 
Not mine, the little Asian one.

At least her answer's in English, right?

These people make me never want to leave Korea.

Ke$ha totally should have thought of doing this with a ukelele. It's a thousand times more awesome.

All in all, I've been kind of wondering lately why in the world I would choose to leave such a place in three months. Korea is full of wonderful people who love me and whom I love desperately in return. I may have cried when I left America, but someone's going to have to drag me on the plane kicking and screaming when I leave Korea.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The third and final wedding of April

The month of April was full of wedding bliss, and if you're just tuning in, you can check out Katey and Jaywon's wedding here, and Polly and Kelly's wedding here.

Introducing: Wedding Number 3 - Jungmin and Mark!

My last weekend wedding excursion was to celebrate my lovely friends, Jungmin and Mark. Mark leads the bible study I've been attending, so basically the wedding was a day to dress up all fancy and hang out with all my closest friends. Doesn't get much better than that!

Jungmin's family is from outside of Seoul, so the happy couple rented a bus to get us to the church. Since the church was quite far away, we stopped during the journey at a rest area. Most of you already know this, but American rest stops look like this:

Not so in Korea. Korean rest areas look like strip malls. In fact, I had to take four pictures to get the entire rest area. I'll only post one, but imagine it times four.

When we pulled up, I had no intentions of getting out of the bus. I had to wake up at the same time I do for school on a Saturday, and that meant I wanted to spent every minute I could asleep in the back corner of the bus. Marlene's husband, Augustine, stayed on the bus with me. A few minutes after everyone disembarked, Augustine asked me if I'd ever tried jwipo. When I told him I hadn't, he hopped up and insisted we go get one. Now, I didn't know what jwipo was, so I bet you don't either. It's this:

Basically it's a flat piece of dried fish that's been briefly cooked on the grill. And you've been buying M&M's at rest stops all this time.

Although it wasn't my favorite Korean food, it wasn't bad since it was pretty much just fish jerky. It did, however, leave an awful taste in my mouth that I had to suffer through for the rest of the bus ride there. It makes a little more sense now why Koreans brush their teeth fifty-six times a day.

Jungmin and Mark's wedding was the first I have attended in Korea that took place in a church, and it looked lovely. When we arrived, we hurried downstairs to eat before the ceremony started. The combination of the fish jerky, the bus ride, and looking at pictures on Polly's computer screen combined to make me a little motion sick, so I ended up just snacking on strawberries. I did eat a ton of them, so I think it all evened out in the end.

We rushed up to the sanctuary just as the ceremony was beginning, and an usher handed us headsets. Mark and Jungmin knew that many of their guests were only English-speakers, so they asked one of our friends to translate the whole wedding for us. It was an awfully sweet gesture, and since the pastor was hysterical, I'm really glad I was able to understand his jokes.

Mark memorized a lot of Korean for his part, and we were all really proud of him throughout the whole ceremony. Near the end, his dad gave a little speech (translated by Jungmin's dad), and the way he whole-heartedly tried to pronounce the handful of Korean words that had been sprinkled into the speech made all the girls tear up just a little. It was so sweet to hear him trying so very hard to speak his daughter-in-law's language (and his accent was just plain precious).

Mark and Jungmin bowed to their parents and presented them each with a bouquet of flowers to wrap up the ceremony. Afterward, they pulled up groups of people to take pictures (as they do at all the weddings). When the "friends" group arrived, Jungmin tossed the bouquet. She had selected the girl who would catch the bouquet in advance, but it ended up being quite a struggle getting the flowers into that girl's hands. By the end, a few roses had dropped out of the bouquet, and my friend Suji and I each snagged one.

I didn't catch the *whole* bouquet, so I'm pretty sure this doesn't make me next in the nuptial line, but seeing as Suji's getting married in October, I feel like this rose has to be at least a little lucky for me. I'll let you know the second someone proposes. Dad, start practicing "annyeonghaseyo", just in case.

Look how lovely she is!

Things I will not be including in my wedding in the States:
- Again, no kissing of the bride. That's a must for me.
- A pre-selected bouquet-catcher. Let every woman have a fair chance, eh?
- Nasty fish taste in my mouth.

Things I'm totally going to have at my wedding in the States:
- A friend translating the entire ceremony into another language, preferably pig-latin (Friends, decide amongst yourselves on whose shoulders this important duty will fall).
- A hilarious preacher because weddings should be cheerful events.
- My dad speaking Korean.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A filler post about noodles

I'm so far behind on blog posts. Seriously. I have weeks of events to write about, and each one of them could turn into an epic story should the creativity bug hit me. Unfortunately, the only bug that's hit me is the one that causes me to read 1980's sci-fi as though it holds the key to the known universe. Therefore, I'm pathetically behind on posts, and catching up just feels daunting. So I'm officially giving myself permission to tell stories out of chronological order just to get them written. And to get the ball rolling, I'm going to talk about noodles.

Asia loves ramen. I could take it or leave it. It's not the worst thing ever, but it certainly doesn't qualify in my list of comfort foods. When I first got here, I found out that they sell ramen (or as the Koreans call it, ramyen) nearly everywhere, but I never really took the time to seek it out. For some reason, this has become of the utmost importance to me in the last month or so, and I frequently have conversations in my head about which place looks like it could boil the best noodles. Today on the way home from work, I stopped at a kimbap place (remember kimbap?) because I knew they usually also sold ramen. I stood outside for a while trying to locate "cheesy ramen" on the all-Korean menu. Once I found it, I ventured inside and proudly asked for "chee-suh ram-yen" - a pronunciation I had practiced in my head a dozen times in the street. The guy in the restaurant looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language (English, maybe?), so I repeated myself. Twice. Three times. Finally I sighed and pointed at the name on the menu and he gave me an expression that clearly asked why I hadn't said that in the first place. Such is my life.

I waited for a few minutes, handed over 3500 won (about 3.50), and headed home feeling like I had finally located the holy grail of dinner options. It was only when I got home and opened my bag that I discovered that this was riskier than I had ever anticipated.

That's ramen, alright. In a plastic bag. They were kind enough to give me a bowl to dump it in, but alas I was a little concerned that my meal so closely resembled, well, vomit in a bag.

See what I mean?

No matter how it is packaged, ramen is still just cheap noodles, so after I stopped laughing at how hilariously disgusting it looked, I poured it into the bowl and enjoyed my dinner quite a lot. This, however, I ended up throwing in the trash. No matter how Korean I'm feeling, I still can't manage to stomach kimchi (sorry, Korea).

And now, at the bottom of a post about ramen noodles that about four people will actually read, I'll make a quiet announcement that I went on a date this weekend with the bank boy. You know, the one I'm in love with. It only took me eight months to catch his eye, too! He's so sweet and almost unbearably polite; he walked me back to my apartment and (no joke) the whole way there I kept asking if he was lost because he lived the other direction. It simply didn't occur to me that he was purposefully walking me home. On top of his impeccable manners, his whole family is awfully fancy. Considering the fact that I cheerfully consumed what may have been a bag of vomit for dinner, I don't think I'll ever be on his level.  I'm not expecting to hear from him again, so this will probably be the last post about our love affair, but I wanted to chronicle the completely unanticipated event that a guy whom I am attracted to actually liked me back. Well, almost. Baby steps.

Monday, May 9, 2011

This wedding had a sword and games (but not games with a sword)

So it's been almost a week since I talked about Katey and Jaywon's wedding, and about a million things have happened in the meantime. Korea celebrated Children's Day on Thursday last week and my school went on a field trip (during which I was forced to hold a frog) on Friday. Obviously I have tons of pictures and stories from both of these events, yet my annoying preference for chronology prevents me from writing about them until I've finished the series on weddings. Luckily for me, today is Buddha's birthday and I didn't have to go to school. I'm debating throwing on my rainboots and heading to a coffee shop... but... so much effort...

Introducing: Wedding Number 2 - Polly and Kelly!

Kelly is Korean, and Polly is Norwegian. In fact, his actual name appears to be just a series of consonants, so he lets us call him "Polly" so our American brains don't explode. Quite kind, if you ask me.

Like for Katey and Jaywon's wedding, the weather was beautiful. The ceremony took place outside under a canopy, and it almost - almost - felt like we were in a garden instead of in the middle of a huge city. Kelly's family had invited everyone in Seoul to the wedding, and since the wedding hall didn't seat 12 million people, Polly and Kelly had to narrow down their personal guest list. There was one table (seven seats) designated for our small group, and I'm pretty sure I was only invited because they wanted to see their wedding on my blog. (hehe)

The wedding itself was adorable because the pastor translated for himself. His English was leaps and bounds better than my Korean, so I can't make fun of him in the slightest, but it was still so precious. It's been weeks, so I can't remember most of what he said, but I do remember that at the end, instead of pronouncing them "man and wife" he proudly declared them "a couple!" I'm pretty sure they've considered themselves a "couple" for a while now, but it's good to know it's official.

After the ceremony, Polly and Kelly stuck with the tradition of cutting the cake and feeding it to each other (which I totally thought was American, but I guess it's just Western). However, no offense to the countless American weddings I've attended, but this cutting of the cake was by far the most awesome I'd ever seen.

They cut the cake with a sword.

Unfortunately, they didn't treat the cake like the formidable foe it actually was, and they sliced it quite politely, causing minimal damage to the structure. You can rest assured that I'm going to demolish the crap out of my wedding cake, and my brand new husband will be backing away slowly to ask the preacher if he actually has to sign the paperwork.

They followed the cake-cutting with a first dance, another tradition I've been sad to go without in Korea. Although in the States, the first dance is traditionally just for the newlyweds and no one else participates, at this wedding, not a lot of people were even watching. Korean weddings are kind of all about the food, and since most of the guests were eating during the ceremony (not rude; normal), many people had left by the time the dancing began. This was actually okay since Polly kept sneaking his hand on Kelly's butt, and Korea wouldn't have approved.

My favorite part of this wedding was at the end. Since receptions aren't really done here, the wedding is usually over once you feel you've eaten your money's worth. Being Western, however, Polly wanted people to stick around and enjoy themselves, so they hired an entertainer to come play games with us.

You know how much I love games. I was elated.

The entertainer only spoke Korean, so the Korean speakers at our table had to translate everything for us. Therefore, our table lagged a little in understanding the games, so we usually took a little while to pick up on what was going on. The first game involved a rolled up napkin, rhythm, and my friends looking like dorks.

It was a little like hot potato and a little like that clappy game you play at camp. The picture above is a reenactment; we were all much more focused during the real game.

We played another game where three songs were played on top of each other, and the audience had to try to guess what songs were being played. Since my knowledge of kpop is limited to "Sorry, Sorry" and "Nobody But You", I was decidedly unhelpful during this game and instead took pictures of all my friends listening intently.

Oh yeah, Marlene doesn't know a lot of kpop either.

We headed inside when the weather started to get chilly, and continued the games there. Polly and Kelly thanked us all for coming and told us how much we mean to them, which was a sweet and thoughtful gesture on a day that should have been about just the two of them.

At the end of the ceremony, Polly was supposed to sing a song for Kelly, but they couldn't get the music to play. While we were inside, they piped the music through the speakers and he serenaded his bride.

It reminded me, of course, of this:

Didn't know I had that video, didya?

As with Katey and Jaywon's wedding, I'll summarize the important points for you.

Things I will not be including in my wedding in the States:
- People my parents invited but I've never met.
- Chaos (Polly will tell you Korean weddings feel ridiculously unstructured compared to Western weddings).
- Lack of other people dancing.

Things I'm totally going to have at my wedding in the States:
- A preacher who self-translates into another language. My entire audience will likely speak English, but won't that be fun?
- Slashing the cake with a sword.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A whole lot of people got married

This post has been removed at the request of the bride. Sorry! You can read my other wedding posts here and here!