So, I realized it’s been a while since I shared some Korea stories. Here’s some quick updates:
I’ve started a taekwondo class that meets 3 days a week. It’s an international class, so we have a few foreign students and a few Korean students, and it’s taught in English. So far I’ve only been to a few classes but I’ve learned enough to know that I am NOT good at taekwondo. Apparently it takes a whole lot more flexibility than I’ve had in my entire life combined. The teacher says I’m getting better but I think he’s just trying to be nice. I think the true test of my skills will be when I can prowl dark alleys at night and singlehandedly beat up violent street gangs. Maybe next week? Definitely by next week.
The other week I took a field trip with my Korean Music and Culture class to the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts where our professor had gotten us seats at a traditional court music performance. I am not really a huge fan of court music because it’s reeeeaaallly slow so I went only because it was required. Actually, just getting there was the hard part. Turns out there are two Sinchon stations in the same neighborhood (why???) so by the time I figured out the right train station I was too late to catch the bus with the rest of the class so I had to take a taxi and even then I only got to the museum about 26 seconds before the concert started. Whew! Afterwards our music professor gave the class our own personal tour of the museum because she’s basically an expert on all traditional music (and she’s a famous Korean music composer, did I mention that?) There was an area in the museum where you could try out a gayageum (a 12-stringed instrument that looks like this and that I have heard is really hard to play) and our professor just sat down, tuned the gayageum (of course) and then performed for everyone in the museum. I’ll admit that was pretty cool. And then afterward she took the class out for noodles.
Here’s my class at the museum. I’m kind of hidden in there and it was a museum so I didn’t get many exciting pictures.
And it’s kind of blurry, but here is me in front of a traditional Korean drum doing a traditional Korean pose.
Last weekend I went on my first “MT” trip with my fine arts club. All the clubs here do an overnight Membership Training trip at the beginning of every semester in order to “train” the new members. Basically that means seeing how much they can drink. There were 45 students total and together we took a bus to a little camping site about an hour outside of Seoul where we stayed in a lodge overnight. We made dinner (rice and kimchi, of course, and grilled meat, yum!) and then we spent the rest of the night drinking.
I’ve seen some crazy drinking games these last few weeks, but even I was surprised when they told me we would be playing Monopoly! First of all, I can’t believe I’ve never seen drunk Monopoly before. Just the idea of it sounds 100 times better than boring old regular Monopoly, right? Even so, it’s kind of hard to play a real game of Monopoly when you’re tipsy, so the older students made a simple version where all the properties were places on campus, and we played in teams of about 10 people. Each team started with several bottles of soju and the only rule was this: the game ends when all the soju is gone! All prices were paid in soju. If you landed on an unclaimed property you could buy it for a certain number of shots. If your team landed on another team’s property, you paid in shots. Sometimes the penalty was steeper: the other team got to give you one of their soju bottles! That meant you had to drink more to win, which meant drinking games in between turns as well. Korean students can turn anything into a drinking game. Even rock-paper-scissors.
I’m sort of hidden in these pictures too. I spy with my little eye… a pasty-white foreigner!
Oh my gosh. Mom and Dad, I do other things besides drinking, I swear. And I don’t even drink that much, but it’s just such a big part of socializing here. I have actually found that it is much easier to have conversations after a few drinks. No, really. It’s very hard to just sit down and chat with someone when you hardly speak their language, but after a few drinks no one really cares if your pronunciation is off or if your grammar sounds like it was constructed by the Google translator. After a few drinks even I stop worrying about sounding like an idiot, so it’s a win-win. Besides, all the Korean students speak really good English and they really want to practice with English speakers but they’re usually too shy until they’ve had some soju. That’s actually when it gets interesting. This weekend I had this one guy ask me to tell him about my (non-existent) love life because he’s never had a girlfriend and he wanted to know what people do when they go on dates. I thought he was trying to ask me out but no, he just wanted me to talk about going out to movies or holding hands or something. It was actually really funny, partly because I was a little tipsy so a lot of stuff seemed funny at the time, and mostly because when he couldn’t remember a word in English he would make a face like he was constipated. Poor guy. I don’t even remember his name. Oops.
Speaking of names (and I’m super excited about this so I’m pretty sure I’ve told most of you already) my new friends gave me a Korean name! Wanna hear it? It’s so clever!
You may now call me: Yu Dana
Here’s how you spell it: 유다나
Let me explain: Koreans tend to have a hard time pronouncing my name and they usually call me “dah-na” instead of “day-na”, which is kind of weird because all the sounds in my name are all sounds that actually exist in Korean so it shouldn’t be that hard to say. It’s not like my name is “Zach” or “Jeff” or “Steve”, which would be really hard for Koreans to say because there are no ‘z’ or ‘f’ or ‘v’ sounds in Korean (not to mention it would be kind of weird if my name were Zach or Jeff or Steve. Maybe a better example is Lizzie or Sophie or Victoria, though I don’t think I could pull off any of those names either.) Regardless, at the MT some girls decided that the name I’ve had for the last 21 years was just no good anymore and that since “you are Dah-na” my new name should be Yu Dah-na, and so that is how I introduced myself all weekend.
When it comes to names, I know a lot of you might be under the impression that all Korean last names are either Kim, Lee, or Park… and you would be pretty much right. Although there some other last names, like Kang, Jang, Yoon, Choi (pronounced “chwe” not “choy”. Koreans are really confused about why we do that), Jeong, Moon, Shin, Oh, Yu, and Han, something like 1/4 of all Koreans have the last name Kim. For a little perspective: the most common last name in the U.S. is Smith, but it only about .9% of Americans are actually named Smith (I looked it up!) Anyway, when 1/4 of the people in your country all have the same last name, you have to come up with super original first names, right? There are a few common first names here, but usually when I’ve been in a big group of people all meeting each other for the first time (which is quite often, lately. Remember I told you Koreans will go out drinking with just about anybody?) people have to repeat their names like two or three times for the other person. It’s like if I was introducing myself to you and I said my name was something really uncommon like “Butterlily Sparklepants”, you would probably do a double-take, question whether you had accidentally walked into a My Little Pony convention, and then ask me to repeat myself. You know how in American schools you’ll often have two “Julie”s or “Emma”s or “Alex”s (or in one case I know of personally, four “Jacob”s) all in the same class? I mean, you can barely have twelve kids in the same cabin at summer camp without having repeated names (hint: it’s always “Rachel”. Anyone else ever notice that or is it just me?) Well, so far I have yet to meet two Koreans with the same first name, so 5000 brownie points for originality!
Also, spring has finally come to Seoul! When I first got here back in mid-February the weather was butt-freezing cold, but now it’s usually a pleasant 18-20 degrees!
Don’t worry, that’s about 65 degrees in Fahrenheit. There are tons of flowers blooming. Specifically, the four types of flowers that they have in Seoul: forsythias (개나리, “kaenari”), azaleas (진달래, “jindallae”), magnolias (목련, “mogneyon”), and cherry blossoms (벚꽃, “beotggot”). Though I know them mostly as the little yellow flowers, the little pink flowers, the big white flowers, and the oh-my-gawd-they’re-everywhere cherry blossoms. I was looking forward to summer, but I’ve since heard that the summers here are hot and humid and horrible. But for now, yay spring!