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!

 

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Seoul-long, And Thanks For All The Fun!

Well, the time has finally come: after 4 months I am leaving Seoul. Tomorrow morning I am taking the bullet train to Busan, where I will spend the rest of summer break doing a workstay in a language café/hostel. That means I will be working in the café in exchange for accommodation and meals. For those of you who have never heard of a language café, it’s a café where people (usually college students) can go and hang out with native speakers of different languages and practice speaking. They’re pretty popular here in Korea because they’re a good way to try out real conversations outside of a classroom setting. Most (but not all) cafes here are for English-Korean exchange.

And Busan!!! Busan, the second largest city in Korea, is located on the southeast coast, all the way across the country from Seoul. By bus it takes about 4 hours, but the bullet train can make it in 2.5 hours.

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From what I’ve heard, Busan is like the smaller, more relaxed version of Seoul. Okay, when I say “small” I mean only 4 million people live there, instead of 10 million, so it’s still pretty big. Also, Busan has a lot of beaches. Beaches! Based on their reputations I kind of have this mental image of the two cities as neighbors in similar houses, except Seoul would be the guy who hosts sophisticated dinner parties, and Busan would be that guy who has awesome barbeques on the weekends. I don’t know how accurate that is, but that’s just how I imagine it. I will be able to tell you for sure after I move there.

The best part, though? This is Seoul’s subway map:

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And this is Busan’s subway map:

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It’s so quaint!

Also, Busan is supposed to be milder than Seoul, weather-wise. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this already but Korean summers are hot, humid, and tend to be sort of monsoon-y. I’ve already started to experience some of that heat and humidity and it is NOT fun. Korean summer weather is so crappy that the 1988 “summer” Olympics in Seoul were actually held in September. And although we’re not into full monsoon season, there have already been some of what K-mom calls “showers”, which are basically torrential downpours that last for several hours. I honestly have never seen harder rainfall in my life (it rained through my umbrella last night!) and the streets are practically flooded in minutes so I can’t imagine how the monsoon can be any worse. Unfortunately, it looks like I’m going to find out the hard way.

Anyway, as a goodbye to Seoul, I’ll just wrap up with a few highlights. Okay, maybe just a few last things I haven’t shared with you yet. Oh! Like some of the weird questions I’ve been asked over the last few months. My first week I was here I was approached by a 100-year-old man in the subway who told me (in English); “you are beautiful. Just like my baby”, and then just walked away. Another time a guy in the school cafeteria told me he was impressed with my “eating habits”, as I was eating some doenjang jjigae. Thanks, I guess? A few times Korean students asked me if I am married, because they say I look older than I am. I think it’s mostly an Asian thing, because even the Japanese girls in my Taekwondo class look like they’re 20 years old when they’re really closer to 30, and they assumed I was older too. Also, the other day in computer graphics class my professor wanted to know the difference in pronunciation between “color” and “colour” and even though I explained it was just a different spelling for the same word, no one was satisfied until I had demonstrated how to say “colour” with a British accent.

Seoul is home to my favorite street foods, like egg-bread (계란 빵, “keran bbang”):

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Note: not my picture. I stole this from the internets. I seriously doubt anyone will sue me for copyright, but there you go.

It’s really just an egg cooked in a sweet bread but it is soooo good. I also like the corn-on-the-cob, (it’s special glutinous corn, so it kind of tastes like rice but everything in Korea, by law, has to have some rice in it) and the spicy chicken skewers and the little pancakes that are shaped like fish and have red bean paste inside, and the hoddeok pancakes that have brown sugar and nuts inside… oh, so tasty. Seoul has also introduced me to some of the weirdest foods I’ve ever eaten in my life. Mostly squidly things, but also pig’s feet (족발, “jok-bal”), and the deceivingly-named “potato soup” (감자국, “kamja-guk”), which is actually more like pig spine soup. The meat was really good (like soft pot-roast) but eating it reminded me a little like that one scene from “Predator”.

Leaving Seoul also means saying goodbye to my friends. I’ve become close with some of the other foreign students, but I’m really going to miss my Taekwondo classmates. I don’t know if it was the shared exercising, or having to kick each other over and over, or making fun of our instructor when he would do this high-pitched scream every time he kicked (you’re supposed to yell, but his was a little extreme), but we became pretty close. There was this one girl who spoke Chinese, Korean, English, and Japanese, so she started out as our master translator, but kind of turned into the mother of our little group.

And of course, leaving Seoul also means I will be saying goodbye to my host family: Host Dad, K-mom (my tiger-mom of a host mother), and little Host Sisters. I never got to practice taekwondo with them but considering that they could break all the bones in my body with one pinky finger it’s probably for the best. If I’ve been a little silent about my host family so far it’s because I didn’t want to share too much of their personal information on the internet, but we have grown close. Not super super close, but I will miss them when I leave.

I might even miss scary Host Grandma a little too. Have I told you all about Host Grandma? She’s under 4 ft but she’s got an attitude and she’s always ordering me around in Korean with this gravelly old lady voice that I can’t understand so mostly she ends up pushing me around until I figure out what the heck she wants. It’s quite frightening when Host Grandma yells at you.

Even though I still can’t understand Host Grandma, my Korean has gotten better, I promise. I can actually have a conversation now! Okay, maybe a really simple, kind of tedious conversation, and maybe I speak better after a little soju (it really all comes down to confidence… or lack of inhibitions), but at least people can understand me and I can sort of understand other people (as long as they don’t talk too fast.) I am able to communicate most of my wants and needs, which is a big improvement from when I first got here and I just sort of blindly followed people around because I didn’t really know what was going on. I couldn’t follow a thing anyone was saying. People would talk at me and I would nod like I understood, but really it was a bit like this:

Yep, pretty much sums up all my attempts to speak to Koreans.

Also, I can understand a little bit of Korean TV now too… except for the “King of Ratings” skits on Gag Concert (it’s an SNL-type show, except that the skits follow the same format every week, so you get to see the same characters each week and they build up really good running jokes.) “The King of Ratings” is about a producer who tries to improve the ratings on his television show by adding more drama. Why don’t you take a look and see how much you can make of it (and make sure you watch until the end to see the special guest stars!)

I watched this with my family on TV a few weeks ago and later I had to search like crazy to find a version with subtitles because I had to know what the heck was going on! (If you want a basic translation message me, or check out the subtitled version and skip to minute 41.)

You know how you can be totally surrounded by background conversation and be able to completely tune it all out… until someone says your name? Then you’re instantly alert, right? I’ve gotten like that with a very particular Korean word, “waygook-in” (외국인), which is the Korean word for “foreigner”. You hear this word a lot as a foreigner in Korea, and I’ve gotten really good at picking it out of random background noise. It’s a generally a sign that someone is talking about me and they don’t want me to know. Nowadays though, I can tell when someone is talking about me AND what they’re saying (like the other day when my host sister was telling her friend that I eat watermelon seeds and how weird that was.)

Wow, this has kind of turned into me rambling about random stuff. It’s not like I’m leaving Korea for good yet, just moving on. And I’m ready to be done with school and do something different. So, here’s to Seoul. May we meet again someday!

And a pun: What do you call a motorcycle you can’t ride?

못타사이클!

Ha ha ha ha ha!

그리고…

줄리엣: 이 글을 읽고 있으면 한국에 즐거운 시간을 보내세요! 우리는 서울에서 만나지 못 해서 아쉬워요!

Hanglish: Do You Speak It?

Hanglish: the very entertaining combination of English and Hangugeo (한국어, which is what the Korean language is called in Korean.) Also known as “Konglish”, for Korean-English.

I have been waiting to do this post for a loooong while and I think it’s finally time, since I’m leaving Seoul at the end of the week. This is the best of the bad English (and just plain weirdness) that I’ve seen since I got here. A lot of it is from Seoul, but some are from Jeju Island, where they don’t seem to be as fluent in English. Enjoy but be warned: contains some language that is not safe for children or those with delicate sensibilities.

First up: the best delicacies in Korea…

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The Korean just spells out “nude barbecue” and not real Korean words, so I dont know what this really is. Sounds a little dangerous though.

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Are the marine products invited?

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I LOVE gristle on a skewer!

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“Dumplings served in floorcloth” and “ramen crevice”. Yum! Actually, the Korean translates to “red ramen”, but I am still not clear on what that is.

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I think I remember eating this…

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It comes pre-digested? Oh my gosh that takes so much of the work out of eating! I’ll take two please.

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Okay, this was actually in Japan, but still, someone is clearly confused about what BBQ stands for.

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Would that look something like this?

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Note: picture stolen from the internet after I searched “Octopus Possum” just to see what would come up. Copyright and blah blah blah.

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I think this was referring to some kind of corndog.

What else can you buy in Seoul? How about some beauty products…

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We actually asked the girl at the store if it was real placenta and she assured us it was the best sheep placenta money can buy. Yeah… I don’t care how “timeless” it is, I am NOT going to rub that all over my face.

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I kept hoping this was a translation mixup. Nope. They really sell snail cream… for when you run out of placenta.

Don’t forget to check out these places too!

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“special tourist zone” What?

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But Mom… they have live jazz!

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So tempting…

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Perhaps they were dictating?

For the fashionistas among you…

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I love this picture. Not because of the guy’s clearly fake college jacket, but because the girl behind him is all contorted in a way that is straight out of “The Exorcist”.

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Funny… they don’t have that department at my school…

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Forgot something on your t-shirt, maybe?

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It’s not that this doesn’t make sense, but I don’t know why you would put it on a hat.

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I’m curious: what constitutes a “kolon” sport? Maybe I don’t want to know.

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Sorry this picture is blurry. I was walking behind this guy in the subway station and I had to take the picture secretly. Can you still read that? I have found that most young Koreans know this word, but only as a general swear word. They usually don’t about it’s use as a verb.

And finally, sometimes you just don’t need words…

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Apparently Koreans are just more creative at using the potty than we are.

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Well, I’m off to study for finals. That’s all folks!