Goodbye Korea

Well, this is it. My final day in Korea. And my final blogpost. I’m not even sure what to write. I feel like I should have something profound and inspiring to say but I still haven’t sorted out how I feel about leaving. Right now I feel ready to go home, get back to my life, and finally stop being a traveler and a foreigner. I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and my family and telling everyone my stories, especially the ones too crazy to publish in this blog (yes, there are a few!) At the moment, I am happy to be going home.

On the other hand I know I am going to miss Korea like crazy when I do. I’m going to miss the friends I made here (especially the ones I made in Busan) and the people (yes, even the ajummas) and the food (especially the food!) and the culture (though not the old guys who spit on the street or the squatter toilets), and Busan (especially the beaches) and Seoul (though slightly less than Busan, sorry!) and real kimchi. I’m even going to miss the crowded traditional markets that smell like fish and the pushy ajummas on the subway. I might even miss being looked at by people on the street and the open-mouthed stares of small children. Who knows.

I’m definitely going to miss Busan a lot. Not only because my friends are here, but also because of the atmosphere. I liked Seoul, but Busan is so much more laid-back and colorful. Hence my photo collection of whimsical street art:

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So… I guess the moral of the story is the nerd always gets the girl? I’m assuming he’s a nerd because of the glasses and the star on his onsie pajamas.

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And don’t forget the mountains!

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And of course, the Konglish.

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I kind of want that shirt. No… I REALLY want that shirt!

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Does this mean the customers are only chaste men or that the clothes so bad that anyone who wears them is subject to involuntary chastity?

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Previously tasted chicken?

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Uh…?

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So… no German women allowed?

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Sounds like a REALLY awesome water park!

I don’t really know how to do a final farewell so I think I might just wrap up with a few highlights from the last six months (wow, has it really been six whole months?!?)

I’ve eaten more new foods in the last few months than I can remember. 99% of it was delicious. The remaining 1% was strange invertebrates whose gummy texture completely overwhelmed any taste benefits they might have had. Most of the food I’ve had here burned away some part of my stomach lining (thank you Korean chili powder!) but it was totally worth it.

I’ve been renamed by the natives. You may now call me Dah-na. Though people in Busan tend to call me “Dina”, or they completely mishear and they call me “Jana” so honestly at this point I’ve almost forgotten my own name so you can call me whatever you want and I’ll probably answer.

I’ve experienced the best Korea has to offer: I’ve biked and picnicked along the Han River in Seoul…

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…climbed Bukhansan Mountain (barely!)…

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…strolled through both Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung palaces (as well as several temples)…

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…celebrated Buddha’s Birthday with a traditional lantern parade…

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…seen the view from Namsan Tower, vacationed in Jeju Island…

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Yakcheonsa Temple on Jeju Island: still one of my favorite places in Korea.

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…toured the DMZ…

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… and most importantly, eaten a lot of patbingsu!

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I’ve also experienced the daily life of Korea as well, like the traditional markets…

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…springtime in Seoul…

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…college neighborhood nightlife…

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…and sharing the street, subway, and bus with thousands of other people.

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I’ve learned basic Taekwondo. (And also forgotten much of it over summer break. Oops!)

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I spent a weekend in Japan while only using a grand total of 4 Japanese words.

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I’ve also been up to see the sunrise at Gwangalli Beach in Busan. This was one of my favorite moments in my entire time here.

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And of course, many other things that you’ve already read about. Or maybe you just skimmed it and looked at the pictures. Whatever, I’m not judging. But I do want to say thank you to all my readers. I appreciate you coming along with me on my travels… and for putting up up with a lot of weird humor, geeky pop culture references, and really bad Konglish puns. It’s been a good journey.

I would also like to thank my amazing host family for hosting me this last semester. They were always so kind and wonderful to me. And they put with with my awkward Korean for 4 whole months which is worth like a thousand million brownie points.

And finally, thank you to my friends in Busan who helped me celebrate my last week in Korea. I’ll miss you all, you crazy people.

I’ve heard that after a long time abroad, the returning culture shock can be just as bad as the original one. I know it will take me time to adjust to American life again, but I think I can get through it alright. If I end up a kimchi addict living in my parents’ basement I’ll let you know but I think as long as I cope better than this I’ll be okay:

(Silly Jack. You spent the first 4 seasons trying to get OFF that island!)

I do want to return to Korea someday. I don’t know when I will be able to come back, but who knows, right? So I’m not saying “goodbye”, just “so long for now.”

We’ll meet again, Korea. I know it.

또 만나자!

 

Beating The Heat At Gwangalli Beach

What’s up y’all? Doing good? That’s great. Me? A little English tutoring, a little sight-seeing. I told you about my student, right? I’m teaching English to an ajumma (Korean for “middle-aged woman”. A post on ajummas later, I promise!). She is so sweet, and really grateful that I’m spending time with her every day. I’m just happy that I can show off how much Korean I know (though I do get the occasional blank look that tells me I said something really weird and undecipherable.) She even brings me snacks sometimes and we chat in Korean with two other ajummas who are also regular members.

When it comes to the other staff, we recently lost a few members (we’re all travelers, remember. People come and go often here) so it’s been really quiet and the energy in the cafe is just not the same. Hopefully we’ll get some more fun people soon. We miss you guys!

And finally, I know I’ve said it a bazillion times, but it’s hot here. So hot. And humid. Literally every day is like that face-melting scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And when it’s not hot and humid, it’s slightly less hot, raining and humid. Fun combo.

Despite the heat, I’ve still made it out and about this week. And although I’m not much of a shopper, I checked out some of the best shopping in Busan. The shopping scene here varies tremendously. First, you have shopping malls like Shinsegae (신세계 백화점), the largest department store in the world.

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Nine floors of shopping, eating and entertainment, including the famous SpaLand sauna and an indoor ice-skating rink. I was just at Shinsegae this weekend, but sadly I forgot my bundles of hundred-dollar bills so I wasn’t able to buy much.

Fortunately for those of you with skinny wallets, there are other options. Do you like haggling with old women over the price of kimchi?  Do you enjoy shopping for strange-looking vegetables out of the back of a rusty old truck? Do you prefer to choose your own sushi, still-wriggling, from a bucket of lively eels? Well then, Bujeon Market (부전 시장) is the place for you!

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I found myself here the other day pretty much by accident. There is a major subway station called Seomyeon (서면) where I’ve spent a lot of time underground while transferring between train lines, but I had never actually been above ground there, until last week. I stumbled across this very lively market. Okay, make that “village.” I’ve seen traditional markets like this in Korea before, but Bujeon takes up several blocks. It’s huge! And there was sooo much food. I know you might think there is a lot of produce at American grocery stores, but I wandered down a back alley behind some of the stalls and there were garages (that’s really the best way to describe the storage rooms) that were just PACKED with bags of onions or watermelons or cabbage or radishes or chili peppers. I’ve never seen anything like it. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures. There are a lot less foreigners in Busan than in Seoul, so I stand out even more here, and I definitely looked suspicious creeping around in the secret back-alleys of a Korean market. A lot of the stall owners gave me weird looks.

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Kimchis!

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Hmmm… all dressed up and nowhere to go… Maybe I’ll go gaze at some seafood…

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On my day off I decided I needed a break from talking to people all day (sorry, guys) so I hopped a train early in the morning and went out to Beomeosa Temple (범어사). I was a little bit skeptical at first because I’ve seen so many Buddhist temples since coming to Korea and I already saw the other famous Busan temple, Yongungsa, but I was glad I went. Beomeosa is bigger, more beautiful, and more impressive than Yonggungsa, and it’s up in the mountains so it was a little bit cooler up there and more quiet and peaceful. And definitely far from home. It took me two train lines, a bus-ride, and and hour and a half to get there.

The first people I saw when I got there were all dressed like this:

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I don’t know if you remember my post about climbing Bukhansan Mountain with my parents, but when we first arrived at the bottom of the mountain that day, everyone around us was dressed like that too: sturdy hiking shoes, fancy exercise clothes, climbing poles and gloves, backpacks full of kimbab… I’ll admit I had a slight panic moment when I got to Beomeosa. Was another “hike” going to turn in to a mountain climb?

Fortunately the temple itself was only a 5 minute walk from the bus stop. Whew! But those of you who like climbing, there are trails up the mountain. And several little hermitages that offer temple stays (for a hefty price, obviously.)

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The pathway to the temple was lined with these turtle monuments (see the turtle creature at the bottom?) I assumed they were some kind of grave markers. Commemorating really kick-ass Buddhist monks, perhaps?

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Please. Everyone knows the world rests on the back of a giant lion-turtle!

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Either a monument to a monk… or a gravestone from the Korean version of Oregon Trail. “Here lies Becky Sue. What a shame she caught cholera, was attacked by bandits, and eaten by a bear. Rest in peace.”

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This gate is supposedly a big deal because of the supports. There are four columns, instead of the usual two, and they are made of stone. Also, it’s very easy to walk around it, so not much of a gate, really.

The impressive thing about Beomeosa is that it’s really more of a temple compound, instead of a single temple. There were at least a dozen halls, and probably a lot more little prayer rooms that I didn’t see. The temples are still being used, so some areas were closed off to tourists. There were actually many people praying there when I was visiting. And I caught a glimpse of some airbenders… I mean, Buddhist monks.

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Many of the temple’s congregants were elderly. It doesn’t look like Buddhism is especially popular with the younger generations. Though it could just be that the remote location of Beomeosa and the super fashionable dress code (tunics and baggy grandma pants) dissuade a more “hip” crowd from attending.

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Ha ha! Sneak-attack photo! I like his shoes. Very traditional Korean.

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Just some mountains…

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These guys again. Someone has a thing for figurines.

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White Lotus???

And of course, no attraction in Korea is complete without a little Konglish. I walked through the wisteria gardens a little bit. They were nice enough, but gregarious? Not so sure.

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There are two famous beaches in Busan. The larger and more well-known is Haeundae (해운대, which I think I mentioned one or two posts ago), but my apartment is closer to Gwangalli Beach (광안리) which is a little less popular, but offers a great view of the Gwangalli Bridge. Also, there is a public walking path along the water from my neighborhood to the beach, so I’ve taken to jogging there in the evenings (the only time when it’s not so hot that you’re sweating buckets as soon as you walk out the door.) It’s really nice because the bridge is lit up at night, and the rest of Busan is out power-walking along with you.

I apologize for the crappy pictures, but hopefully you’ll get the idea.

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Pun time! (I told a bunch of these to one of our Korean roommates and we had some good laughs… though everyone else just looked a little confused. Their loss!)

What do you call a 5 year-old onion? 오년!

What did the bread say when it ran into a wall? 빵!

Until next time guys!

Seeing the Sights, Sighting the Seas

As promised, I’ve been out exploring Busan. Last weekend I went with some friends to Yonggungsa Temple (용궁사) at the north end of the city. I mentioned before that Busan is sort of spread out, at least compared to Seoul, so going anywhere by subway seems to take a whole lot more time. Getting to Yonggungsa took over and hour and included a 30-minute bumpy, slightly nauseating bus ride. The temple itself was not as grand as some of the ones I’ve seen (okay, maybe after Yakcheonsa Temple on Jeju Island nothing impresses me anymore) but it was still pleasant. Also, the weather was pretty muggy. I have some friends here from Taiwan who tell me I’m crazy and that this weather is nothing compared to Taiwan, but when you’re practically sweating to death it’s not very helpful to hear.

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Secret Tunnel to the temple! Secret, secret, secret, secret tunnel!

Yonggungsa is also built right along the seaside cliffs, so it has a great ocean view. That also explains the name “Yonggungsa”, which I think means something like “sea palace temple.” IMG_0990 IMG_0994 IMG_1000 IMG_1005 IMG_1007

These little figurines where hidden all around the temple. Most of them were Buddha statues, but these little guys are supposed to be good disciples showing off how well they study Buddhism. Except for maybe the little guy on the far right. He’s clearly the class slacker. IMG_1009 IMG_0991

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Recognize the two little guys in the bottom right-hand corner? Those are the Grandfather statues from Jeju Island!

On the way home from Yonggungsa we stopped off at Haeundae Beach (“hay-oon-day”, 해운대), the biggest and most popular beach in Busan. It was a little rainy that afternoon so thankfully it wasn’t too crowded. The water was way too cold (for me) to go swimming so we just took a short nap on the beach. IMG_1015 IMG_1014 IMG_1013

On Wednesday I had the day off again so I decided to check out Gamcheon Cultural Village. Gamcheon is a village where many Koreans refugees fled to during the Korean War. They settled in this valley and started building homes. Unfortunately no one thought to hire a professional neighborhood planner so the houses got built all over the place like some mismatched Lego village. The good part is that everyone was so considerate of their neighbors that none of the houses block the view of any of the others. The result is like some little coastal European village with cobblestone streets and winding alleyways. In 2010 (I think) they decided to totally revamp the entire village and the residents painted their houses very bright colors. Now it looks something like this: IMG_1018 IMG_1021 IMG_1055

To get to Gamcheon Village you have to take the subway for 20 minutes and then a bus up the mountain to the actual village. And when I say up the mountain, I literally mean up the mountain. I was in this tiny little village bus speeding straight up some crazy steep hills. I thought city driving was bad but this was practically suicidal!   Once you get to the top you can look down into the valley and see the whole village. In the distance you can even see the ocean. It’s strange how rural Gamcheon feels. On the mountain next to the village people still farm like they have for generations. But no matter how rustic the village is, everyone still has a smartphone and high-speed internet. Still, the lack of high-rise apartment buildings and department store advertisements is refreshing. IMG_1057 IMG_1061 IMG_1060 IMG_1029

Even though it is a tourist attraction, normal people still live their everyday lives in this village. Visitors are asked to be respectful of the residents, and stay on the main path but I got lost down several twisty alleyways and wandered into private backyards more than a few times. Thankfully no one saw me. Whew! Part of the renovations included installing more street art. This is part of why Gamcheon Village is so famous. A lot of people come to take pictures of the art, especially dating couples. IMG_1020 IMG_1028 IMG_1036 IMG_1046 IMG_1048 IMG_1050 IMG_1052 IMG_1054

They are also really into these fish: there must have been hundreds of them. I think they were painted by children (maybe village residents?) and put up all over the village. I thought they were super cute. IMG_1022 IMG_1026 IMG_1034 IMG_1035 IMG_1064

Eventually they combined into one massive monster fish! IMG_1043

As for cafe work, everything is going well. I’ve gotten to know the staff and some of the members better, which is nice. Also, since I’ve joined the cafe there have been several new members who don’t speak English very well (or at all) so I’ve sort of unofficially been assigned to them as tutors, because I’m one of two staff members who actually speaks Korean. Most of the less fluent customers are middle-aged women who feel a bit out of place in our mostly-college-student cafe, so they really appreciate that I sit and talk with them. Plus they always tell me I’m pretty which is nice. There is one middle-aged woman who just started taking English classes just a few weeks ago and I’ve been helping her a lot. It feels like too much responsibility to help someone learn a new language but I’ve been getting help another staff member who has experience teaching English (it’s funny, actually. The non-native English-speaking staff are often better at teaching grammar and stuff because they actually learned it in a classroom setting. I’m just like: “yeah… I think I’ve heard of a gerund. That’s a type of burrowing rodent, right?”) So between her teaching experience and my Korean skills we are (slowly but surely) helping this woman learn English. I know this sounds cheesy but it’s been really rewarding.

And not to toot my own horn (just kidding, I’m going to do it anyway) but some of the members get really excited when they meet me because I am the only American volunteer in the cafe, so they think my English is more “official” and they say I am easier to understand. Sorry to my fellow staff-members from Ireland and the UK: your accents are cute and all, but mine is better! So, I’ve realized that the amount of humor in my posts is steadily decreasing. I will try to fix that. I think it is just because I am so tired. I spend all day talking (introvert, remember? Talking is hard!) and I’m also studying Korean in my free time. I realized how lacking my vocabulary is so I’ve been trying to memorize 5-10 new words every day. Also I’ve been spending a lot of time socializing (ooh! Scary, I know!) Often I’ve been up talking with my roommates until the early morning hours or going out with my Korean roommates. I especially like going out with them because when I speak better Korean after a few drinks and also they don’t notice how awkward my Korean is after they have had a few drinks. Unfortunately, when I’m drunk I start talking to foreigners in Korean as well, and my friends tell me the next day that no matter how much they told me they couldn’t understand I continued to speak Korean to them. However, the other day I realized that if I want to be fluent I’m going to either have to get over being shy and practice more while sober or become an alcoholic. I’ve decided on the first option. (Whew! Mom, aren’t you proud of me?)

Hanglish pun of the day: Once there was these two friends, an Australian guy and a Korean guy. One day, the Australian saw his Korean friend standing in the distance and he called out: “Oi, g’day mate!” The Korean friend responded: “Hey, who are you calling a cucumber?”

(Foreigner translation: the Korean word for “cucumber” is “oi”. And it sounds a little like “oy”. Man… why do I have to explain for you guys. It ruins the joke!)

American Werewolf in Busan

It’s been a week since I moved into my workstay in Busan so I think it’s time for an update, don’t you?

Most of you are probably unfamiliar with the concept of a language café, so I’ll start there. Basically, Koreans pay a membership fee (like you would for a gym), and they can come in the café whenever they want and chat with foreign staff members (us.) Members come pretty regularly. usually a few times a week, some almost every day, and they typically stay for several hours. And although most of the members come to practice English there are a few who are learning Japanese or Spanish as well.

Besides the managers, the staff are all traveling volunteers, like me, and they are literally from all over the world (though everybody speaks English.) Out of the dozen or so staff members none of us are from the same country. Many of them have traveled all over and are really fascinating people. I think this job attracts very easy-going, mature people who like to travel and make new friends, so we all seem to get along pretty well so far.

Those of you who know me well know that I am generally an introverted person. Usually after spending a lot of time with other people I need to go home and recharge and avoid all human contact for several hours. So you can imagine that for me, the idea of doing a job where I’m supposed to talk to strange people for 6 hours a day every day was only slightly less mortifying than when there’s a spider in your room and you turn away for like 1/100th of a second to find something to kill it with and when you turn back the spider is gone. I was honestly really worried about how I was going to do this job, but the first day of work it took me about 5 minutes to get in the groove of things. It’s actually a bit like spiders: the Korean students are generally more shy of you than you are of them, so you just have to smile and be friendly and make them feel comfortable. Also, the fact that I can speak Korean is really useful for helping the less experienced students. So far I’ve been having a ton of fun.

Even though my job is great so far, the more I think about it it’s actually a very strange job. Basically I’m being paid (okay, not really paid. Compensated with food and housing) to be friends with random Koreans. Our job is to be super friendly with everyone and make sure that all the café members get to participate as much as they can in the conversation. We usually spend most of our time at a table but the café has board games and foosball and a pool table too if members want to do something else while they chat. Basically we have to be charming and make sure the customers have a good time (and yes, I know how that sounds. Don’t worry, we’re forbidden from dating members.)

The amazing thing is that you actually do become real friends with the Korean members. A few days after I got here two staff members left to continue their travels and both staff and members were very emotional. I think when you spend that much time with someone every day for several weeks it’s hard not to become real friends.

The language café is located in a busy college neighborhood (a lot like Sinchon neighborhood, where I was staying in Seoul), so we’re surrounded by bars and restaurants and loud drunk people at all hours of the night. The owners of the café also own two apartments in a building just around the corner from the café. Both apartments have enough bunk-beds to sleep about 25 people (yeah, it’s crowded. I share a room with 3 other people, though some of the rooms have 8 people.) One of the apartments is the “hostel”, which is used for backpackers and other guests, and the other apartment is for the staff, so that’s where I’m staying. We don’t have enough staff to fill all the beds so there are also Korean students living here for the summer. It’s a good deal for them because they get a cheap place to stay that’s close to school AND free English tutoring all day long, and it’s cool for us because we get to make friends with Koreans who aren’t café members (and maybe be invited out for drinks and karaoke, like I was two nights in a row. It was fun while it lasted, but not a good idea in the long-run: I’m sooo tired.)

The staff also has to clean the hostel and the café, so another part of my job includes cleaning shifts a few times a week, but I don’t mind too much. I get two days off per week, in case you were worried about me working too hard.

And Busan? Oh Busan… I’m pretty acclimated to Korea by now so the biggest shocker for me was the Busan accent. Apparently no one thought it was important to warn me that they speak really different in Busan. It’s so different, in fact, that I actually have a hard time understanding people (good thing my job is to speak in English, right?) Some of my Korean roommates explained to me that they consider the Busan accent to be “manly” and the Seoul accent to be a bit “girly.” They say that Seoul-ites think people in Busan sound too aggressive when they speak. I’ve noticed that the Busan accent is less “sing-songy” than the one in Seoul, so to me (and my English brain) it feels like the difference between a British accent and an American one (except that we all know Americans don’t have an accent.) I think Americans would think of a British accent as more posh and “girly” than ours. As for the culture, Busan-ites seem a bit more boisterous than Seoul-ites. I’ve noticed that people are louder on the subway and they bump into you a lot more. My personal bubble took a beating this week.

Wednesday was actually my first full day off so I got to take a little subway trip and finally see some more of the city. I went to the famous Jagalchi fish market

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Very fresh, obviously, but I opted for lunch at the less-fishy market across the street. I’ve told you about hoddeok pancakes, the fried donut-like cakes filled with nuts and melted brown sugar, but they’re typically a winter treat so I was really surprised when I found them here in Busan. Not only are Busan hoddeok filled with the same brown sugary goodness, but when you order one, the little old lady at the street cart opens up a separate part of the pancake like a pita and scoops in a different, special sugary nut mixture with lots of sweet, crunchy seeds. It was 80 degrees out but I ordered a piping hot hoddeok anyway… no regrets!

Just up the hill was the Bosu Book Street, which is a quaint little alleyway of tiny shops filled with crazy amounts of books.

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I even found a few familiar titles, both in English and Korean.

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That’ would be “Merida and the Forest of Magic”. Sounds a lot more exciting than just “Brave”, if you ask me.

I crept around the neighborhood for a while and then followed some random stairs up to the top of the hill and was able to see a pretty good view of the city. Busan, unlike Seoul which has one city center and is situation between several mountains, is built around several mountains, so it’s sort of divided into several large areas and it’s really throwing off my sense of direction. I miss knowing the lay of the land. Seoul was MY city, you know?

I only have a few weeks here but I suspect I’ll get to know Busan just as well. I still have yet to go to one of the beaches. There are also some great hiking mountains and temples around here as well. And since Busan hosts the Busan International Film Festival in October every year, there are supposed to have some really awesome movie theaters here. If there was anywhere you should spend a rainy day at the movies (and rainy days ARE coming!) it should be Busan.

Though I think I’ll be happy if I just figure out what the heck everyone is saying!

Oh! But I heard this great family joke:

가족!

Ha ha. I’m so funny!