Posted by: bfoos | March 7, 2011

Settling Into A New Life

The second week of classes is on its way, and I’ve been in South Korea for about a month; 1/5 of my trip is over.  Life is becoming a schedule, routine is taking over, and the city seems less alien.

I feel comfortable in my corner of Seoul.  In just the way I had imagined before the trip, I’m enjoying listening to conversation in Korean, exploring the alleys and side streets of my district.  I’m learning where to find the best coffee, the cheapest snacks, the ice cream.  I’m getting to know local shopkeepers, becoming more confident in speaking with others.  I’m assimilating….albeit slowly.

This is exactly what I wished for, and I am so happy to be here right now.  What started as a hectic vacation, now feels like a life, a home.

On a less poetic note, I’m also turning into a vampire (not literally).  I tend to take lots of naps, and sleep a good portion of the day, with the exception of attending class. Most of my active time is at night, usually really starting my day around 4-6pm.  I go out for food and frequent several 24-hour shops and cafe’s nearby.  I study hard, and try to keep ahead of my grueling courses.  I try to stay fit, either through long walks through the rolling streets or  exercise in my room.  It’s also a good way to keep in touch with family and friends back home.

Academically, I am being challenged more than ever before.  One of my professors used to teach at Harvard Business School, and another at the Wharton school of business (UPenn).  Unlike my home institution, speaking out in class is expected; team-based case studies, projects, and simulations are a norm.  I’m used to being a number, watching lectures off a website, and showing up once or twice in person to take an exam.

I’m not sure If I should be happy that my courses are so involved, or concerned.  On one hand, I am completely inexperienced in this type of learning environment.  On the other, it’s forcing me to be studious every day and stay on top of the material.  Every night feels like I have an exam the next day, since I know I’ll be expected to orally contribute to the discussion.

Here’s my final course list and the names of my instructors:

  1. International Finance (Jaiho Chung)
  2. International Business (Fabian Froese)
  3. Emerging IT Issues in a Digital Business World (Sejoon Hong)
  4. New Venture Creation and Management (Daeil Nam)
Posted by: bfoos | March 4, 2011

First week of classes

One week down, 15 or so more to go.

At orientation, I originally registered for four classes which totaled twelve credits: International Business, International Finance, New Venture Creation and Management, and Intermediate Korean I.

I ended up not passing the placement exam for Intermediate Korean I, so I switched into Colloquial Korean.  It’s probably for the best, since it will help me gain the confidence to speak up more.  In Korean.

**Update: Colloquial Korean was only 2 credits,  putting me at a total of 11.  I would have had to forfeit financial aid at my home institution for taking less than 12, so I dropped it and added a class that complemented my experience in IT.

All of my classes are going to be very challenging.  Here are some differences I’ve noted from my home institution:

  1. Attendance and participation are weighted heavily.  Missing even 4 days of class will cause you to be issued a failure for the class.
  2. Group and team projects are a large part of my syllabi.  Two of my professors are also using Harvard Business Case Studies which will be presented in teams.
  3. Exams are worth 30% at most (unlike 50% at my home university), and are sometimes optional depending on how well you are doing in the class.
  4. Class sizes are small.  My largest class is under 40 people.  This allows large class discussions, and we are partially graded on how much we speak.
  5. My courses are English only.  The professors are completely fluent and articulate.  In fact, one of my professors forbid any other language being spoken, upon penalty of failure.  His reasoning was that English is the language of International Business and that we needed to use it.  I think this was geared towards the Korean students, not the exchange students.
  6. Courses are challenging.  The syllabi, the esteemed and accomplished professors, and the state-of-the-art facilities remind you that Korea University is the best private University in Korea, and one of the best business schools in Asia.  I seriously doubt I can pull A’s here, but I feel that hard work will earn me a suitable grade.
  7. Textbooks are CHEAP.  The most expensive textbook I had to buy was roughly $38.00 USD.  It’s American equivalent retails for $193.33 via Amazon.  I had to buy a total of 7 textbooks, and spent under $200 USD.

Other than class, I’m currently trying to find a gym.  The ones on campus require a membership (only about $30 USD a month), but have already been filled to capacity.  There’s another private gym near my flat, so I have to check there to see their rates.

I tried this fried pork cutlet two days ago (돈까스) and I think I got food poisoning?  My stomach was in pain as if it refused to process the meal, my appetite disappeared, and I was in a constant state of nausea.  I feel great now though!

I’m also currently on an adventure figuring out how to do laundry with my LG front-loading washing machine that is entirely in Korean.  Also, laundry detergent comes in SHEETS in Korea.  SHEETS.  Exactly like dryer fabric softener sheets.  Although I’m about 30 minutes into an hour and a half cycle and I see no suds.  This worries me.

Tomorrow’s mission: purchase some KU swag!  Sizes are so small here that I’m worried I won’t find anything.  I’m not a big man, especially for an American, but I’m at least a large here.

Posted by: bfoos | February 24, 2011

KU Orientation/KUBA

The past two days have been spent getting to know my KUBA buddy, and attending an immensely informational orientation program for Korea University.

KUBA stands for Korea University Buddy Assistants.  KUBA is a program you must apply for when you first apply to Korea University as an international student.  On the KUBA application you are asked whether you want to practice your Korean with your buddy, and whether you have a preference for gender.  I selected no gender preference and that I wanted to exchange language and culture with my buddy.

I met my buddy on the first day of orientation, Kim Sun Gu.  A buddy’s role is just to help you acclimate to the university, to answer any questions about anything you may have, and to become a good friend!  My buddy and I got along right away, and though his English skills are very low, we get by with my broken Korean.  Having to constantly translate is proving very good for my language skills, and I’m very glad my buddy isn’t an English speaker.

My buddy and I had time to kill, so he showed me the Judo club’s practice room, and took me on the subway to Insadong.  At nearby Nakwon Arcade, I bought the travel-sized guitar I had been eyeing last week, and was very pleased with the price.  I paid 130,000 KRW for the guitar (nice sounding for the price, and well constructed), which came with a free gig bag, replacement strings, and a load of picks.  They even put new strings and tuned the guitar for me.  Good service, in my book.

Through orientation I also met many other international students.  Their presence and friendship has been a relief, since I had felt out of place and as if I were a stranger in Korea until now.  Being around others who are in my position has instilled greater confidence in myself and my ability to live here in Seoul on my own.

The orientation has been very helpful, as well.  On the first day we had a general introduction to the facilities of Korea University.  After a campus tour and a free lunch at a student cafeteria, we had an IT session where we set up our KUPID accounts and our Korea University (@korea.ac.kr) email accounts.

The second day of orientation was centered around correctly completing and submitting required forms for various administrative purposes.  The morning was spent with managers from Hana Bank, which sponsors the Korea University ID Card.  The student card plays several roles in the life of a student.  Firstly, the card can grant you access to many on-campus facilities.  Secondly, the card is connected to a checking account with Hana Bank and can be used to pay for any purchases or public transport costs.  This free account is very helpful, and I will soon be wire transferring most of my funds for this program to Hana Bank.

The afternoon was spent getting cell phones for many of the students (but I already had one so I didn’t attend).  We also worked on submitting our Alien Registration forms and our course registration forms.

At about 6pm, a bunch of the internationals from my group went out for drinks, and we had a great time getting to know each other.  Many did not get a seat on the school-sponsored Seoul sight-seeing trip, so myself and another student from Bulgaria will be leading an unofficial Seoul tour tomorrow.  We plan on going to Gyeongbukgung Palace, Insadong, Nakwon, Namsan Tower, and Apgujeong at night for dinner, dessert, and drinks!  It’ll also be a good chance to get everyone T-money cards (their student IDs will work for public transit, but won’t arrive for 2-4 weeks), and to show them how to use the subway.

Lastly, here are some tips for orientation, since the school did not explain the process very well and things can become very disorganized:

  1. For the student ID card/Hana Bank account application, you must provide a copy of your passport and a color passport photo (3cm X 4cm).
  2. For Alien Registration (required for stays greater than 90 days) you must provide ANOTHER copy of your passport, ANOTHER color passport photo, and 11,000 KRW for processing fees.  The fees include the 10,000 KRW fee for registration and a 1,000 KRW fee for a re-print of your official acceptance letter to Korea University (required for the application).
  3. Your course registration form must be submitted as early as possible to the appropriate office.  For most, this is the Internation One-Stop Center at Dongwon Hall.  If you are in Korea University Business School, however, you must submit the form to the business school instead.  Since normal campus registration begins the prior semester, most classes are full by the time you arrive in Korea.  Exchange students are placed on a waiting list for these classes and most can get in, but it is essential to get on the waiting list as early as possible.
  4. I don’t know all the details for cell phones, but what I could gather was that most are on a rental basis, or a pay-by-the-second-of-usage plan.  You need a THIRD copy of your passport, and ALSO THE VISA PAGE for this application.  The fee depends on the phone and plan that you choose, but most are very affordable.  The phones take 24-48 hours to activate, so until that time many are without a phone number or ability to make calls.
  5. You generally have a few weeks to submit the Alien Registration form, so if the office is unnaturally packed, just go the next day to submit the form to the International One-Stop Center at Dongwon Hall.  There won’t be a line and you’ll still be on time.
  6. Check your @korea.ac.kr email address at least once a day.  Administrative emails can come at very strange times.  Many people living in CJ International dormitory were not notified of a mandatory meeting for residents until nearly 1am the day of.
  7. If you submit all of these things, plan on using a total of 3 copies of your passport identification page, 1 copy of your visa page, and bring at least 3 passport photos (3cm x 4cm) because everyone seems to want them :)

If you are planning on studying abroad in Korea, I hear that many of these procedures are similar on other campuses, especially at SKY universities.  I hope this information helps!

 

Posted by: bfoos | February 22, 2011

First All-Korean Purchase: Trash Bags

In most cities of Korea, Trash must be disposed of in specific bags which can be bought from any convenience store.  The purchase of these bags pays for trash pickup service.

Trash Bags
Green bag is for food.  White bag is for general trash.

So I knew I had to go get these bags, since the max fine is one million won, equal to about $900 USD.  I walked down the street to the nearest convenience store and said:

“내 가 쓰레기  봉투 하고 음식물 쓰레기 봉투 를  두개 사고 싶어요.  감사합니다~”

Pretty much just says, “I want to buy two trash bag and wet-food trash bag.  Thank you~”

I have no idea if the website I got the names of the trash bags from gave me the right names in Korean, but the clerk seemed to understand right away.  The purchase went very smooth, and then I screwed up saying goodbye because I was so nervous.  I said “안녕히가세요” (go well), instead of “안녕히계세요” (stay well)  haha.

What an adventure.  Next thing to try is ordering food!

Posted by: bfoos | February 22, 2011

First walk through KU

I left the apartment today to explore KU campus, which not that hard to navigate since its a bit smaller than my home university.  The buildings are all like castles to me, and the sheer size of their construction is very impressive!


Korea University Main Hall

samsun centennial hall
Centennial Memorial Samsung Hall

Design
If I read my map correctly, this is the center for architecture and design.  Way larger than it seems, had to take a picture of this looming colossus.

Inchon
Inchon Memorial Hall, where my orientation will be held.

Posted by: bfoos | February 22, 2011

Studio Apartment

Well, it’s been a while since I posted because I almost died.  I’m deathly allergic to peanuts, and somehow one found its way into my food.  Ended up having to take a lot of antihistamines after almost dying and then sleeping 22 hours straight.

On to the topic of housing in Seoul.  If you didn’t get in to CJ dormitory on campus, or if you didn’t apply, you have several options in front of you.  For the budget conscious, there are many off-campus student housing solutions called either Goshitel, Goshiwan, or Hasukjibs.  Rents with these types of properties are in the 300,000 to 500,000 KRW range.  Rooms are either shared, or single, depending on how much you’re willing to pay.  Bathrooms are also either shared or single, depending on price.  At many of these properties, one or two meals a day are provided free of charge.

Some off-campus student properties that seem to be popular this semester are:

  1. Crimson House
  2. Allive Gositel (http://allive.co.kr/, but the website seems down.)

Residents at Allive, for the most part, are entirely KU Exchange students.  I found a great review of the property here.

A more complicated option requires knowing someone in Seoul.  If you visit a Bokdukbang, more commonly referred to as a Budongsan, you can rent an apartment.  Budongsan  will usually only do business with Korean citizens, and they often require a large deposit (I paid close to $10,000 USD).  Unlike in the US, Budongsan do not try to take your deposit, you almost always get it back unless you completely disrespect the property.   The advantange is that you get a large apartment to yourself for much cheaper than the Goshitel.  I pay about $450 USD a month and am the first tenant in a brand new apartment complex, with free water and state-of-the-art appliances. The apartment is also furnished with a bed, desk, bookcase, closet, and shoe drawers.

Bedroom
The bed and desk were included, and the window is actually 3 windows.  The outermost is a sliding screen, the middle window is clear and soundproofed, and the innermost is obscured and also soundproofed.  The blinds provide extra protection from light in the early morning.

Kitchen
Kitchen which came with the fridge/freezer, microwave, range, and washing machine (clothes, not dishes).  Hood extends out over the range and lights automatically.

Closet
Closet which was big enough to hold my large luggage in the bottom section and all my clothes and jackets in the top.


On the left is the intercom.  You can ring my room from the front door to request access, which is granted via a button on the handset.  In the center is the boiler control.  The boiler not only heats my water, but heats the room via pipes which run under the floorboards (floor heating is the traditional Korean method).

bathroom
Bathroom, entirely made of marble tiles.  One large shower head, and one that detaches for hand-use.  The toilet is also in there, to the left of the sink.  A large medicine/toiletries cabinet is to the left of the mirror, but obscured from view in this picture.  The window is actually a triple windows, just like in the room.

Complex
Outside view of my building.  They’re not done constructing, and are adding a garden.  They gave us complimentary internet to make up for the ongoing construction.

front door
Front door to the complex, which has only 3 floors and a roof level.  There are three rooms per floor.  Door opens with an RFID card. Floors and walls are all new marble.

door lock
Second level of security: Digital touchpad door-lock.  The number re-arrange themselves every time, so you can’t just follow someone’s motions.  Coolest thing ever.

Roof
Roof, which is considered the fourth floor.  There is a small garden behind me as I take this picture.

Campus
That grey building over there is on KU campus.  It’s barely a 5 minute walk away.

Bugak View
Nice view of Bugak Mountain from the roof.  There is a temple up there that you can hike to.  I have the same view from my window.

I am very happy with my place, and look forward to exploring the area and learning my way around campus!

 

 

Posted by: bfoos | February 19, 2011

Seeing all the sights in one day!

Yesterday was a long, fulfilling day out on the town with my cousin, Dong Woo.   Our first priority was to learn how to use public transport.  In Seoul, you can pay for public transport with cash, or with rechargeable cards.  The cards utilize RFID tags, so all you have to do is hold them up to a sensor.  Every bus, subway train, and taxi has a reader for this type of card.  Not only do you get discounts for using the card, but if you switch modes of transport (i.e. from subway to bus), within 20 minutes of a swipe the next swipe is free.

RFIDTransportCard
This is the RFID card I bought to pay for transport.

We got on the bus in Apgujeong-dong, and rode all the way to the dedicated bus stop for Korea University.  Conveniently, the business school is directly across the street from the bus stop, and directly above a dedicated subway station.  The subway doesn’t go directly to my cousin’s place, but you can switch lines at Yaksu station to reach Apgujeong.

KoreaUniversity
Somehow this is the only picture that saved for Korea University.  This is part of the business school’s main hall, and the awning in the bottom right of the picture covers the subway station entrance.

Rather than return home, we took a taxi to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace.  I know very little Korean history, so it was very enjoyable walking through the Folk Museum and learning about the development of Korean culture.

GyeongbokgungPalace1
Large pagoda-style temple houses a Buddha within.  First stop after entering the palace grounds.

Gyeongbokgung Palace2
Entrance to the folk museum which is housed beneath the temple.

Gyeongbokgung Palace3
Ancient Korean star chart, complete with astrological relationships.

Gyeongbokgung Palace4
Ancient Korean Confucian text.

Gyeongbokgung Palace5
Ancient Kama, used for rice harvesting and in martial arts.

Gyeongbokgung Palace6
Commoner garb.

Gyeongbokgung Palace7
Women’s decorative trinkets.

Gyeongbokgung Palace8
Hanbok accessories.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Hanbok for children.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
King’s treaty-signing hall.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
The Blue House, where the current President of the Republic of Korea maintains his residence.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
More traditional buildings maintained on the palace grounds.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
More traditional buildings on the grounds.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
The King’s entertainment house.  The royal family would also take leisurely rides in a boat in this man-made pond.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Rear of the King’s main reception hall. Very large structure.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Me standing in front of the reception hall.  Its size is quite humbling.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
King’s throne and reception hall interior. Very spartan for a king, likely due to Confucian ideals.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Amazingly unique architecture and design within.  Reminds me of an amalgamation of Meso-American and Confucian Chinese.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
This picture captures all that is Seoul at once: past, present, and future coexist in harmony.  The palace serves to remind Korea of its rich cultural history, the city lies just outside and stands testament to modernity. Construction is ever-present, symbolizing Korea’s striving desire to progress.

After exiting the palace grounds from the main gate, we came upon the “Main Street” of Seoul.  Most important administrative buildings are located along its wide streets, facing a central rectangular plaza.  Beneath the plaza is the YiSunShin museum, which tells the story of the general who built the palace grounds and the gates.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
This false creek runs the length of the road.  Tiles beneath the clear water document Korea’s long history.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Another view of the creek of Korean history.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Entrance to the YiSunShin museum.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Depiction of a turtle boat. These boats were extremely useful in defending against the Japanese, whose soldiers were extremely adept at close-quarters combat.  The turtle boat could keep soldiers at a distance to be dispatched by the more advanced Korean cannon and rifles.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Within the museum we stopped for ShabuShabu, a Japanese dish.  You sit around a table with an induction range.

ShabuShabu1
A large bowl with spicy broth is heated on the range, and dipping sauces and sides start being brought in droves.

ShabuShabu2
Lots of vegetables and mushrooms are added to the spicy broth, and a basket of raw meat is left at the table.

ShabuShabu3
Raw meat makes me salivate. Mmmm

ShabuShabu4
The completed dish.  As the vegetables and beef cook in the soup, it changes the taste of the liquid dramatically.  The goal of ShabuShabu is to finish all the vegetables and beef.  Once you finish all the mix-ins, the waitress will bring you the noodles as a prize.  Essentially, all the other food was just to turn the basic spicy water into a nutritious, dense broth to be eaten with noodles.

*Note: ShabuShabu is paired with kimchi. If a ShabuShabu restaurant has bad kimchi, it doesn’t matter how good their ShabuShabu is, no one will eat there.

Now that the historical sight-seeing was over with, we headed out to the popular markets of Jogno and Insadong.  Jogno is set up like a large department store, but on the streets.  Each section will have maybe 20 stores on each side of the road all selling the same things.  There was a section for motorcycle stores, a section for hardware selling, etc.  Insadong is popular for buying souvenirs, and many of its stores sell traditional Korean hand-made wares.

*Insadong pictures: My camera died so I have no pictures from Insadong or Nakwan Arcade.  I will add them next time I visit!

Nearby Insadong was Nakwan Arcade.  This complex houses hundreds of competing instrument stores.  I wasn’t able to bring my guitar with me to Korea, so I tried to look for a cheap temporary one.  Korean brands, such as Dexter, Dame, Cort, or O’Bang, were actually very well made and sounded rich for the low price.  I’ll probably return there in a few days to make a purchase.  Few items are priced, so haggling is key.

Nakwan Arcade was our last stop, and we grabbed a taxi home to Apgujeong-dong.  My cousin took me to a great bar, Tomo (“friend”, in Japanese).  We enjoyed a couple bottles of warm sake and many delicious appetizers to complement the alcohol. Dong Woo took the chance to teach me about Korean drinking culture:

  1. Your elder will serve you a drink first.  Hold your glass with two hands to receive the alcohol.
  2. Pour alcohol for you elder, using your right hand to pour and your left to support your right.
  3. Unless you are drinking a “slow” drink, down the first drink like a shot.
  4. If your elder’s drink is lower than half-full, fill it for him.
  5. Never pour your own drink.
  6. Koreans enjoy 1,2,3.  This means you have 3 different types of alcohol in 3 different places.  For example, you will visit a chicken and beer bar first, then maybe a whiskey bar, and then maybe end the night with some sake.

Well that’s all for yesterday.  I’ll be filling in those asterisks with some pictures once I sort through the multitude.  See you soon!

Posted by: bfoos | February 17, 2011

Namsan Tower/Samgyeopsal

Today I will share with you the wonders of Samgyeopsal.

What kinds of things does man enjoy, historically?  Fire.  Bacon.  Spice.  All of these are in Samgyeopsal.

Samgyeopsal1

The Korean BBQ has a traditional Korean table, close to the floor.  A hole has been cut in the center to house the metal bin the charcoal will be placed into.  A small hood vent hangs from the ceiling to grab the smoke.

Samgyeopsal 2

The charcoal is lowered into the recessed metal pit.  Side dishes and sauces are served for dipping and or wrapping the pork belly (read,  “bacon”).

Samgyeopsal3

The completed table looks a but like the above photo.  There are several ways to eat Samgyeopsal.  My favorite was the following procedure:

  1. Take a piece of pork from the grill
  2. Locate the soy-based sauce that has the hot Korean chili peppers
  3. Dip the pork in hot chili pepper sauce.  A lot.
  4. Take a large enough lettuce leaf
  5. Put the pork into the center of the leaf, along with some chili peppers.
  6. Add some gochujang, the red pepper bean paste, into the leaf
  7. Add some onions, which are steeped in pork broth.
  8. Wrap the leaf into a ball, with the pork and additives in the center
  9. Eat the entire ball of goodness in one bite.

You can also just eat the bacon.  Or you can wrap it, like written above, but instead you add raw garlic slices which have been heartily dipped in gochujang, along with the onions.

Samgyeopsal is often paired with a bowl of Denjangjige (spicy fermented soy bean soup) and Kimchijige (Spicy fermented cabbage soup).  You can see the bowls of these red soups in the picture.  When mixed with rice, kind of like a dressing, the combination serves to balance the palette.

I ate till I thought I’d explode!  One of the best meals of my life, and from what my cousin tells me, Samgyeopsal is the favorite food of a Seoulite.

After dinner, we went to sight-see at Namsan Tower (Literally: North Mountain Tower), also called Seoul Tower.  We rode the cable car up the mountain, rather than walking to the summit.  The ground floor of the tower houses the Teddy Bear Museum, whose exhibits recant Korean national history using teddy bear dolls.  Afterward, we rode the elevator to the observation level.  The view of the city was breathtaking, and the glass beneath your feet made you feel as if you were flying.

NamSan Tower
Namsan Tower

Namsanpic1
On my way up the mountain, with cityscape behind

Namsanpic2
Namsan Tower at the rear, dark picture :(

teddybear2
A Teddy Bear Museum Exhibit

teddybear3
Another Teddy Bear Museum Exhibit

namsantowerobserv
View from observation deck of Namsan Tower

namsanobsv2
Another view of Seoul

ghost picture
My Japanese teacher in high school would always tell me that if this happened in a picture, that it was a ghost who was next to me, posing for the camera alongside the living.  You can kind of see the features of a smaller woman, her arms crossed down in front of her, hands together.  Kinda spooky! There was no smoke, that happened only in the picture.  Locals say this happens a lot in Seoul, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki because of the many deaths due to war there.

 

Didn’t have time to go visit Korea University today, but will head out that direction tomorrow!  Till then, Anyanghijumuseyo!

 

Posted by: bfoos | February 17, 2011

Some notes on Seoulites

I had mentioned that yesterday Dong Woo had taken me around Seoul in his car, and showed me the many nearby districts of South Seoul.  Some things I learned on that trip were:

  1. Seoul is very connected.  Even dilapidated buildings, or places built with cheaper materials will have state-of-the-art electronics.  Door locks, tvs, displays, cctv systems, sound systems, etc are all way more advanced and ubiquitously implemented than in the US.   Everyone has smartphones, and wifi is cheaply, if not freely, available nearly everywhere.
  2. Koreans in Seoul do not like the outdoors much.  While older Koreans will hike the mountains and such, most Seoulites prefer to spend their money and time on entertainment bangs (means room, pronounced like bahng).  PC Bangs are places similar to internet cafe’s in the US, but they also provide printing and are not limited to the geeks of the social hierarchy.  All people in Seoul tend to like MMORPGs, and many famous ones like Lineage have been developed right here in Seoul.  DVD Bangs are places you can go to watch movies with up to 10 or so friends, and are set up like living rooms.  Noraebangs (voice rooms) are karaoke rooms.  Many theaters and movie theaters also dot the street sides.
  3. Koreans like shopping.  There are an insane amount of malls and shopping centers.  There are entire complexes devoted towards specific types of goods, like Nakwon Arcade, where hundreds of shops are clustered to cater to musicians.  Bartering for good deals, securing a quality item, or getting ahead of fashion trends are things Seoulites really enjoy.
  4. Everyone is beautiful.  At least by American standards.  People eat healthy without trying, since Korean cuisine is very nutritionally balanced.  While not everyone gets enough exercise, the majority of people on the street are slim.  People seem to be born with fashion sense, since everyone is dressed nicely, in a way that compliments their body-type or personality.
  5. Plastic Surgery is easily available.  It can be very cheaply done, and since most are walk-in clinics, it doesn’t take much time.  One ad said you can walk-in for a face-lift, hip-lift, and some other things I didn’t understand and walk out that same day.  The surgeons are generally highly trained, and the industry is partially subsidized.  Asians from many other countries come to Seoul specifically for this.
  6. Hotels, hotels, hotels.  Seoul is both the second largest metropolitan area in the world (behind greater Tokyo) and also one of the largest “Hotel Attractions” in the world, meaning that the hotels are constantly occupied.  Hotels each have their theme and are uniquely, creatively, and attractively decorated.  Architecture is very creative in supporting their theme.
  7. Alcohol.  Alcohol is a part of Korean culture, especially for men.  Unlike other asian countries, drinking to excess in Korea is completely acceptable, and you are often excused for acting like an idiot while drunk.  Drinking together is seen as a way to show trust in each other, bringing down your defenses and showing your true feelings and personalities.  If you don’t drink and are foreign, you can probably get away without causing offense.  If you are willing to drink at least a little, it can be very helpful in making relationships with Koreans.   If you are planning on working in Korea, you had better get used to being smashed, since your boss will expect you drink with him.  For those planning on working or drinking in Korea, look online for guides on drinking etiquette and culture.  I found some here.
  8. For the most part, Koreans are like Americans when it comes to national history and cultural traditions.  Koreans will take a weekend and go see the old palace and watch the ceremony recreations, but they don’t necessarily practice them.  Koreans have a general working knowledge of their history, but probably couldn’t tell you which king is buried in the giant tomb shrine in Seoul. Koreans ARE very political however, and know a lot of their country’s history and political movements since the Korean War.   This is very different from that seen in nearby Japan, where tradition and historical culture are very much a part of the everyday person’s lifestyle.

I’ll let you know more soon!

Posted by: bfoos | February 17, 2011

Time to reflect

My cousin, Dong Woo, was out late last night with his friends, so he is sleeping in today.  The time away from sightseeing, planning, and meeting family has allowed me time to slow down, soak in the reality, and get very excited about finally being here.  It’s starting to feel less like a vacation and more like a new life.

Kyu Bon, my cousin’s wife, had a Korean breakfast made for me when she woke me up at 10am.  I’ve learned that although Korean meals are very heavy, with many courses, they are also very healthy.  Although I eat a lot of food, the majority are fresh vegetables or roots, and the meat is usually fish.  Chicken, beef, and pork tend to be served with dinner only.  Kyu Bon explained that Koreans really enjoy eating out for a European-style brunch, and tend to skip breakfast.

As we ate, we had a surprising amount of conversation!  Kyu Bon lived with her mother in Japan for a little over three years, and so her Japanese is still quite good.  Between my horrible Korean, and my semi-broken Japanese, we were able to fill in all the gaps.  In fact, even though she’s teaching me through Japanese, I’m learning a lot of Korean from Kyu Bon!

We showed each other pictures of our families, and talked about what life was like before I came to Korea.  Amidst pictures of her daughter, Eun Yu, she brought out a large black photo album labeled “All Korean Supermodel Contest 2004″.  Apparently, Kyu Bong won.  My Grandmother had told me that Dong Woo had married a supermodel, but I thought that was her broken english saying she was just very pretty!

Eun Yu, my niece, is the cutest child in the world.  She’s always dressed in some sort of princess-esque dress, sunglasses, and an expression that says the world is hers.  She often tells Dong Woo that she’s a princess, haha.  Eun Yu was very shy at first, but she began teaching me Korean last night using a book called, “Happy Birthday, Maisy!”.  She also got a kick out of using my Lenovo tablet convertible to draw pictures of animals.

I’m completely regretting waiting until the airport to try to purchase a Korean-English dictionary.  The only books in the Korean secition were Lonely Planet phrasebooks, and although they would be useful for a tourist, they cannot substitute for a dictionary.  I already know most of the contents of the book, and some of the phrases are outdated, or would sound odd coming from someone my age.  I’ve been warned that buying dictionaries here can be tricky, since the English is often very off.

Well, that’s about everything I have to update.  When I go out on the town later, I’ll bring my camera and take pictures of all the beauty!

::EDIT::  I forgot about this cake I had bought last night, and which I finished today.  It’s called a crepe cake, no idea why.  Biting through the soft but distinct layers was so amazing!

Cake

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