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Thursday, May 16, 2013
Thursday, April 11, 2013
It's easy to adopt habits and mannerisms from other people. While we don't look much alike, people often ask if my best friend and I are sisters, and the only way this makes sense to me is that we have a lot of the same vocal and physical mannerisms. When you're around someone for a long time, you just sort of subconsciously take on these things.
The best part, I think, about these things is: they become the new normal. I really like the idea of a culture sneaking into your habits and instincts, leaving behind little traces here and there of your time abroad.
Now that I'm back in the States on vacation after fifteen months in Korea, I'm suddenly very aware of these subconsciously adopted habits. Often it's simply catching myself using Korean mannerisms that I've picked up from students and friends, and even more often having to pause and explain myself to the friend watching me with a puzzled expression. Other times it's having a craving for something that wasn't a staple of my American life's diet.
So here's a list, in no particular order, of the little bits of Korea that have become a part of my "normal" routine.
1. Taking my shoes off when I enter a house.
This has become a reflex to me that was actually difficult to override in my brain. (Think of how clean our carpets would be if we didn't constantly track in dirt!) While I was still trying to get myself out of this habit, I would intentionally make myself be the last one to enter the house so I didn't hold up anyone behind me. Which is something that had been happening...
Not my entryway, but mine would often resemble a shoe explosion like this one. (Photo credit.)
I'm not even always aware that I do this, actually. It isn't a full bend-at-the-waist bow, but just a small nod of the head. Always accompanied with a "thank you" in either English or Korean, this is such a simple and effective way to express gratitude that will be understood in Asia. Gestures of body language like this make a language barrier irrelevant. Once I was back in a country whose language I spoke fluently, I caught myself doing this pretty quickly and made an effort to stop, mostly because I was on the receiving end of quite a few bewildered looks.
3. Eating spam.
I am so. mad. about this one. Let me clarify: I do not buy cans of spam. I do not cook with spam on my own. I do not, ever, actively seek out spam as something to eat. But, after being in the ROK for a decent amount of time, I have become... used to eating spam. And... I recently had the shocking revelation that I actually enjoy eating spam. Not in large quantities, but a bit of spam in my roll of gimbap? Delicious. Oh, is that a bit of spam in my soup? Excellent. Now that I'm home? I'm so mad that I miss spam...
A spam giftset at a Korean grocery store, which is common and considered to be a generous gift. (Photo credit.)
4. Pushing and shoving.
Being as Korea is packed full with a whole lot of people, and subway stations can get a bit intense during those busy hours, I have gotten quite good at pushing and shoving my way through a crowd without so much as a single "excuse me." I've learned by watching the masters of this maneuver: the ajummas, who I aspire to be like someday. When I first got to Korea, I was still trying to apologize for inevitably hip-checking strangers, but now, I just plow my way through like a pro. During my time home, I've actually felt really bad quite a few times for my no-nonsense darting and weaving through a crowd. Sorry, everyone I may have cut off or bumped into at SXSW. I didn't mean to be an asshole. You were just in my way...?
You try being meek and making it through this kind of crowd.
Luckily, this is kind of a thing everywhere right now? So my learned instinct to automatically pose with a peace sign next to my face just had to be toned down a bit. Friends did call me out on this though... "What are we doing in this photo? Oh, are we throwing up peace signs?" "Oh, uh... sure...? *sighs* I don't even think I'm aware that I'm doing this..."
Some of the causes of my peace sign photo pose reflex.
6. Speaking in simplified English.
As is true with anyone trying to learn a foreign language, you find ways to express yourself whether or not it's grammatically correct. Sometimes, while it could technically be correct, it just isn't how people actually speak. English is a tough language, so I constantly hear little phrases from my students that sound awkward to my native English speaker ears, and yet do make sense. And, I've adopted some without meaning to. For example, I don't even know how many times I've described the number (as in quantity) of something as "very many" since being home, immediately catching myself and laughing. My students say this all time -- "Oh, teacher, there were very many people at the Big Bang concert!" It makes sense, and also doesn't.
7. Speaking in Korean/Konglish.
While I can't claim to have a strong grasp of the Korean language, like, at all, I have found myself doing a fair bit of code-switching. Ususally, this is in the form of various Korean vocab words being thrown into an English conversation. Instead of yes or no, I'll substitute the Korean equivalent. "Chincha?!" is used in place of "really?!" Sometimes it'll be more complex sentences, like an English word followed by the Korean for "give me, please." I frequently did this before going to Korea, instead with bits of Japanese, Spanish, French, or whatever foreign vocabulary happened to fit the situation. What can I say, it entertains me. I've also found myself using some Konglish that I've picked up from my kids. Strangee, not strange. Same-same, when comparing two things that are, well, the same.
8. Eating uncooked ramen.
The best part about this one is that I HATED ramen in college. I turned my nose up at it when my fellow poor college student friends would make some for dinner. This was not because I wouldn't deign to eat it, but simply because I thought it smelled terrible. Imagine their surprise when I came back from Korea and insisted we go pick up ramen from the Korean grocery store so I could eat it uncooked. While I will eat most packaged ramens uncooked (and prefer them that way), Korea has a brand that's actually meant to be eaten raw -- Ottogi's Ppushu Ppushu. And I am obsessed with it. Ob-sessed.
So. Delicious. (Though the best flavor is the BBQ.)
I'm sure there are other little ticks and quirks I've adopted, and I look forward to figuring them out. All of these "new norms" make me smile and I'm curious to see what else seeps into my habits as I spend a couple more years in Korea.
Has anyone else had an experience like this? Tell me your stories in the comments below!
Thursday, February 14, 2013
this year, the lunar new year fell on a sunday, which meant only one day off from work, and only a three day weekend. three days is still plenty of time -- i know quite a few people who took off to taiwan or japan for the short holiday, but due to my extreme budgeting for my three month stateside vacation, i needed to do something on the cheap. luckily, some friends arranged a trip to muuido, and invited corey and i to tag along.
muuido is a small island off the coast of incheon, where i live. it's typically seen as a summertime destination due to its nice beaches, so i was slightly skeptical about going there during the still icy and snowy winter. but even with these reservations, i figured the worst case scenario would involve us all hanging out inside our pension room, playing card games and eating junk food -- which sounded pretty great to me.
getting to muuido is easy -- catch a bus from incheon international airport, either the 222 or 2-1, headed to jamjindo ferry. (i don't remember the gate you need to go to in order to catch the bus, but you can ask one of the nice people at the information desks in the airport -- that's what we did.)
at the ferry terminal, buy a ₩3,000 ferry ticket and get in line to board. the ferry schedule varies depending on the day, but we caught it about fifteen minutes before it left. the last ferry, from what we read, it at 7pm, but that is always subject to change. arrive earlier if you want to ensure that you'll make it to the island or back to the mainland. be mindful of the tide, though, which is a lesson we learned well... more on that later, though.
roundtrip ferry ticket.
loading up the cars and the people.
that's muuido. not exactly far away. the ferry ride lasted maybe three minutes.
upon arriving on the island, the next step was to get to our pension. luckily, it's a small island and definitely not a busy time of year for tourists, so we found a bus driver, told him where we were staying, piled into the bus, and he drove us over there. simple. also: the buses on the island do take t-money, so load your card up before getting to the island and you'll be able to get around just fine.
i highly, highly recommend this pension. the owner (manager? landlord? i don't know what to call him) was incredibly nice and accommodating -- he kept checking on us to make sure the floor heat was warming up, he helped us figure out dinner plans, he drove us down to the little convenience store for snacks a couple times (driving like a madman down the winding road...), and he even called his son, who speaks nearly perfect english, to help translate. on top of all that, it was a great price for two nights and we felt very safe and comfortable!
however, he also quickly set the tone for our weekend -- in addition to being helpful and friendly, he was also very quirky. he went through our groceries, looked at what we'd put in the fridge, and clucked his tongue and shook his head. pretty sure he thought we were going to starve. at one point, he brought us six eggs and explained that they were fresh, from his chickens. he sat and drank some makgeolli with us, the whole time eyeing corey's beard. his fascination with corey's beard eventually culminated in the old man actually rubbing his face against corey's jaw, which was both hilarious and bizarre.
our little corner of the pension.
the view from the street in front of the pension.
after we dropped off our bags and relaxed for a bit, we decided we should take advantage of the waning daylight to walk around a little bit before it got too bitterly cold outside. not really knowing where we should go, we picked a direction (the options being right or left -- this time we chose right) and started walking.
after wandering through neighborhoods a little, we saw signs that seemed to indicate mudflats that are good for digging up clams. it was obviously too cold for that right now, but the coastline is exactly what we were looking for. more wandering brought us to a snow-covered road that winds along next to the water.
out on the pier.
after a few moments of enjoying the peaceful, quiet ocean...
...and the nice sunset behind us...
...all hell broke loose. in the form of a snowball fight.
luckily, i managed to stay out of the fray.
picking up shells...
...completely unaware of the chunk of snow riyas has just hurled at kellie's head. (it didn't hit her, don't worry.)
one of the dogs at the pension, aka my new bff. i visited her whenever we walked by.
saturday night we opted to hang out in the pension and just eat food we brought or picked up at the convenience store. most of the restaurants were closed or closing, since it was a holiday weekend. one restaurant was willing to reopen just for us, but in the end we felt like it was just too much of a hassle for the restaurant, so we declined. instead, we watched a dramatic korean film and played games and drank makgeolli.
on sunday, we slept in late, relaxed, and then set off down the road in the other direction (meaning we went to the left). we wanted to find the beaches -- either silmi or hanagae, and figured we could just wander aimlessly until we found them. it's not a big island.
muuido's main road, heading into the main strip of restaurants and shops.
while we were walking, we noticed that the tide was out, leaving tons of little fishing boats on their sides in the mud. since we weren't sure what we would find when we got to the beaches, we took this opportunity to walk out onto the mudflats.
from there, we wandered into town a little more and saw signs for silmi beach, so we decided to follow those and see what happened. muuido was absolutely deserted -- walking through the streets was strange because there was hardly anyone else to be seen.
after walking up and down some big hills, we finally reach silmi beach. there was a small admission fee, but it was worth it to be on a beach that was completely empty.
between not really being sure where this beach is in relation to hanagae and having no plan for what to do with our day, we decided to see how far we can get by hiking (climbing) along the coast.
spits of beach were interrupted with rocky bits like this, but the sun was shining, the tide was out, and we all felt adventurous.
don't mind corey, squinting while he cleans his glasses.
eventually, to our disappointment, we reached a point that was impassable. the rocks couldn't be climbed, there wasn't beach to walk along, so we had to turn back.
looking for a change of pace, we decided to hike up the mountain a little, wondering if that could put us on a trail that leads to the other side of the island, specifically to hanagae beach.
this was when i realized that wearing converse was a bad choice.
snow hands. (i think he slipped and fell into a snowbank.)
however, we soon realized that our navigational skills were terrible, and the trail we'd found ended up leading back to a rocky beach we'd already hiked along. so, we gave up and decided to just retrace our steps back to silmi beach.
except we quickly realized there was an even bigger problem.
the tide had come in.
the relatively flat, easily walkable path through the rocks we'd followed earlier was now underwater. hiking back up the snowy mountain wasn't ideal, so everyone decided they were willing to try taking a higher path over the rocks.
this is the part where i'm honestly amazed we all made it out in one piece. we were seriously tempting fate here -- these rocks were covered in ice and snow and higher up than i found comfortable. only once did i feel slight panic while climbing across a gap between rocks (and by slight panic i mean my heart sort of leapt into my throat), but thanks to corey, i had a hand to grab on the other side. (corey, by the way, was definitely instrumental to the success of the group -- he helped everyone get across safely.)
while i'm still pretty sure-footed and confident when it comes to hiking and climbing and being reckless -- that was basically how i spent my childhood, i was still stressing about any of us getting hurt. hell, my bum knee alone was enough to worry me. what would we do? who would we call? was there a coastguard that could come find us? what if someone broke a leg? how would we carry them? how could we even communicate where we are? what were those animal tracks in the woods? are there wild dogs on this mountain? what if we don't make it out before dark?
but at the same time, i was enjoying this. it's an adventure! i'm fully aware that we are legitimately in a dangerous situation, but my adrenaline is pumping and this is actually kind of fun! (sorry, mom.)
just as i was running through this jumble of thoughts and feelings, we all made it past the scariest bit of our "extreme" rock climbing.
see? not the best area of the rocks to be climbing over, but unfortunately for us, our only option.
we rested on the beach for a bit and reassessed our options. ahead was at least one more cluster of rocks that we would need to climb in order to make it back to silmi beach, or we could trek back up the mountain and hopefully find a gentle slope down to the beach. this seems probable, as it's a popular area, and definitely less dangerous than climbing rocks. we chose the mountain.
i led the charge back up the damn mountain, this time really, really regretting the decision to wear chucks. (when we left the pension that morning, i had stated i had no intention of hiking, and therefore had not worn my pair of shoes more suited for hiking in the wilderness. oops.)
i looked down and thought, "i've made a huge mistake."
after hiking through the forest, keeping an eye out for silmi beach on our left, we found a couple spots that would take us down to the flat, non-dangerous sand.
though it looked like the only way to get there was to sit down and slide.
i was the last to go down, so kellie snapped these pictures of me making my way down the last bit of the mountain, scooting along on my ass.
frozen, exhausted, and a little traumatized, we all decided we were done adventuring for the day and it was time to find food and relax.
waiting on the bus to take us away from silmi beach and our near-death experience.
we popped into the first restaurant we found that was open and ordered food. since we were on an island that has an abundance of seafood, we ordered some kind of fish soup, which was really delicious.
the only thing that was unsettling about our lunch was the bloated fish head that was floating in the soup, staring at us.
boats from the same area of mudflats that we'd walked out on earlier in the day. stupid tide.
after lunch, we called our pension dude and he came and picked us up in his truck!
we spent the rest of the night sprawled out on the heated floors, trying to warm up after our freezing hike over a snowy mountain. we were also just worn out, so it was a pretty tame night and i'm pretty sure we all slept really well.
on monday, we had planned to get up early and head back to the mainland. exhaustion won, however, and we ended up not being ready to leave until around 11am.
photo with our new korean pension friend, take one.
and take two.
we all piled back into his truck with our bags and he drove us down to the ferry terminal.
by the time we got to the terminal, it was 11:30am. then we were met with some bad news: the (stupid) tide was out, meaning the ferry couldn't get to the island, and wouldn't be able to leave until about 1pm. we decided to just hang out inside a little convenient store, where we met some other stranded tourists. the hour and a half passes quickly enough, talking with our new friends and people watching.
i also continued my mission of befriending every single dog ever, including these two little puppies.
she just wanted to nuzzle her nose up my sleeve and i just wanted to take her home with me.
FINALLY, the ferry pulled up, right on schedule.
in hindsight, i'm not sure if the whole rock climbing situation was really as dangerous as i remember it to be. i mean, maybe? but maybe we were just overreacting. whatever it was, lesson learned, and i'm sure as hell never putting myself in that situation again.
but i have to say, it was definitely a memorable weekend... next time i go to muuido though, it'll be in the summer and i'll be sticking to the sandy beaches.