Naejangsa (Temple)(I know you love my make-believe words)…

I had a lot of random thoughts on the walk home from work today and instead of making each one into a separate blog, I decided to post them all here – kinda like mini-blogs!  I wonder if they’ll be as good as mini-Cinnabons.  Umm…maybe not because the cream on Cinnabons is too much to compete with.  I can’t handle that kind of competition.  But these morsels are still good food for thought.

1)  The Right of Way.  I haven’t ever thought much about sidewalk walking habits.  Have you?  Where I come from we mostly walk on the right side of the sidewalk.  I don’t know where this idea comes from.  I once read that it had something to do with British history and passing a gentleman on the sidewalk…related to the different society levels…something akin to that.  But of course now that I need the article, I can’t find it.  Point being – in Korea this sidewalk etiquette does not apply.  I’m not going to get into which culture is more logical when it comes to this (been fighting cultural differences in logic all day at work), but I will say that I’ve been here over a year and my body has still not adjusted to this difference.  Someone comes at me walking in the opposite direction and I automatically move to the right and expect them to do the same so that we can pass each other without breaking a step, but noooooo, more than 50% of the people still manage to get in my way.  Then there are the weavers.  Drunk, old, texting or just plain stroll-challenged.  You go to pass them in a narrow area and they veer to the right.  You try again and they veer to the left.  Egads.  Dude, the quickest way to a destination is in a straight line, so follow it!

2) Fall.  Ok, on to less GRRR-ness.  I LOVE FALL IN KOREA.  Well, to be more clear, I LOVE FALL EVERYWHERE.  Butttt for all intents and purposes, I shall narrow it down to here.  Pretty simple actually.  The weather is great.  It’s cool enough for cute hats and scarves to make me feel all Mary Tyler Moore and ish, but not cold enough to need a bulky jacket.  Plus, there are these dark barked trees here with REALLY yellow leaves on them.  The contrast is stunning against a daytime AND nighttime sky.  Maybe I’ll actually remember to charge my camera battery this weekend so I can get a pic for it.  It makes me want to lay down on the sidewalk and just stare up at the leaves for a few hours.  I assure you though that I do resist that urge – not because people would think I was crazy, but because people here spit all over the sidewalk and I am not about to lay anything more than the bottom of my shoe on Seoul’s sidewalks.  The sidewalks in Salt Lake?  Yeah, I’d lay on those.  (Did you notice?  I love fall SO much I capitalized like 10 words in that tiny paragraph.)

3)  That Girl.  Do I talk too much?  Sometimes I wonder if I do.  I wonder if I’m ‘that girl.’  The one that people see coming and want to turn in the other direction for fear of finding themselves in the throws of a lengthy conversation.  The one that everyone knows talks too much but she just doesn’t realize it?  Maybe I’m just being paranoid.  But didn’t you ever wonder – of all the people and personalities you bitch about to your friends – which one of those people categories you fall into?  In my defense, I have a lot of thoughts running around in my head and they need an outlet and since I don’t exactly have a boyfriend or a cat at home to ramble to, you all are stuck with the brunt of it.  😛  Hehe

Looking back at the number of words in this post, I think I may have just answered my own question about talking too much.  Oops.  I try to keep the conversations balanced in person, I just hope others realize that.

4)  I reealllyyy miss salads.  A lot.  A whole bunch of lotta lot.  So next time you westerners eat a salad, think of me and have another bite on my behalf.  Mmm…Sweet Tomatoes.

5)  Crushes.  I could do an entire blog and a half on different types of crushes and maybe I will someday, but in brief…for those out there who have a crush on someone, or more than one someone, here’s a tip on how to see how serious you are about that person.  Tip #721 – Make yourself uber-busy.  Then, see who you still find yourself thinking about when you barely have time for sleep or a decent meal.  I realized today that I hadn’t thought all week about a minor crush I had on someone, which means that I probably had the minor crush on him because I was bored, not because I really saw it going somewhere.  But the one I have thought about?  That’d be the one that I really think I should be with.  The one who has been on my mind for a loooonnnnggg time.  It just took me having less time to think to, well, think it all out.

So yes, these are all the things that I thought of in the 30 minute walk home.  Actually there were more things than that, much more than that runs through my mind all the time, but these are just a few.

¡May you all have happy weekends!


Culture Shock in All Its Glory

Many people I meet have never learned about the 4 generally accepted phases of culture shock (even current expats).  I think it is important to know about them for those who are expats and those who wish to be someday.  Wikipedia gives you a decent description here, although they use wayyyyy too much of the word ‘one.’  There are also a number of books on the subject and I am a fan of the Culture Shock series for various countries to help you know before you go.

Click to see on Amazon

Here is my very own version of what it feels like (I wish I could draw, I’d totally make a comic strip out of this):

Phase #1:  Yay!!  I can’t believe I’m living in another country!  My friends and family will be so jealous!  Everything is so new and exciting!  I lost my luggage, I live in a hovel* and I don’t get paid for 6 weeks, but I don’t care because this is soooo GREAT!  I can’t wait to try all the new and wondrous food!  Did I mention this is sooo great?

Phase #2:  This place f*ing sucks.  I miss…I dunno…lots of stuff, like Kraft Mac-n-Cheese and real Mexican food and having a clothes dryer.  I can’t stand how they (fill in the blank) and every little thing is so irritating I just want to scream.  I can’t believe this is only the 4th month.  How am I going to manage this for another 8?  I should just leave.

Phase #3:  I’m so glad I didn’t leave!  Life is good here now.  I have a good circle of friends.  I can get on a bus without being afraid of leaving my comfort zone or having people speak to me.  I may not know the language fully, but I’ve certainly picked up on some fun expressions like ‘jinja’ (진짜) and ‘ayyssshhhh’ and love them.  I know who 2NE1 and Big Bang are and eat more Korean food than Western food when I go out.   I prefer chopsticks over forks and knives and have been complimented on how well I use them.  I am starting to forget what is ‘normal’ in my own culture and what is not.

I have yet to experience Phase #4 in any country, but here’s what I think it’d be like

Phase #4:  I am the master of the expats.  Ask me anything about this place, I dare you.  I’m comfortable with the language and could be your tour guide if you needed one.  I may integrate some cultures from the old country, but in many aspects I am Korean-ized.  I prefer Beast over Bieber and I stare at newbies on the subway because I think they look funny.  I don’t use any of my old clothes or products from home.  In fact, my entire outfit came from Dongdaemun (동대문).

*thankfully the luggage and hovel part didn’t happen to me, but I’ve heard horror stories*

I added this comic below as a scene changer and because I’m a big fan.  If you live in Korea you will get a kick out of his work, I’ve seen them a dozen times and I still crack up!  If you click the pic it will bring you to his website where you can the rest and buy the book.  Good times.

Courtesy of ROKetship Comic by Luke Martin (click on the pic for more comics and to buy the book version!

I currently am in Phase 3 I believe.  Phase 2 was horrendous, even though I was fully aware it was happening, I couldn’t prevent it from affecting my moods.  I bow down to the friends who went through that phase with me and still stuck around.  You know who you are.  😉  But that is the beauty of expat friends – we stick together because we are all going through the same phases, although sometimes at different speeds.

Here is a good depiction of the process of culture shock.  I like the part about CHOICE because there are many foreigners in Korea that aren’t happy and those who are happy, like me, always say Korea is what you make of it and I think this chart shows that:

Culture Shock choice

I truly believe that knowing about these phases will get you through them faster and smoother.  Being self-aware goes a long way.  Happy travels!

10 Random Things I Love About Korea

Galbi (grilled rib), a Korean bbq

Image via Wikipedia

I just paid off another credit card!!  WOOHOO!!!!!!

As many of you know, I originally came to teach in Korea for financial reasons because my American wages were not paying for my American education.  However, once I got here, I found life here for me to be pretty sweet.  BONUS!!  So in celebration of one more chunk of my debt gone, I decided to regale you with my random list of things I love about living here.  I’m sure there are similar lists such as this out there, but this is my personal take on life in the ROK (in no particular order).

1.  The salsa scene (you knew that was coming).  For any serious salsa dancers out there (especially on2 fiends) who haven’t been to Seoul yet, make an effort to stop in for a weekend when you can.  The dancing here is amazing and I’ve been told by many people from other Asian countries that it’s the best in Asia.

2.  Water machines everywhere!  I don’t mean bottled water that you pay for, I mean an electric machine that instantly disperses hot and cold water.  The ‘water cooler’ isn’t just in the office here folks.  It’s in restaurants, offices, schools and even salsa clubs.  Unlimited great tasting water.  Pure and simple.

3.  Public transportation.  It’s clean, it’s efficient, it’s safe and it saves me hundreds of dollars a month in car ownership expenses.  Bravo.  Between the hours of 5:30AM and 2AM I can get around without having to pay for a taxi.

4.  Korean BBQ.  Haven’t found anyone (excluding vegetarians) who does not like it.  Bite-sized pedacitos of juicy savory meat, cooked table-side, dipped in a variance of toppings like sesame oil and salt or the red stuff (whose name I do not remember).  Then, partake of the unlimited amount of #5.

5.  Side dishes.  It is customary when eating in Korean restaurants that your entrees come with an array of refillable side dishes.  Most of which I honestly don’t know what they are specifically.  There is always kimchi (it is the national pride and joy), plus usually some greens in red sauce, perhaps something mixed with mayo, onions, garlic and even tofu.

6.  Coffee shops.  They are completely franchised here with new ones popping up all over the place.  We often joke that every 3rd store is a coffee shop.  Despite being franchise-y, I like them because they are aesthetically pleasing and due to competition, they sometimes get creative on how to get the customers inside.  There are jungle themes, forest themes, urban looks, and even a cat and dog cafe where you can play with the shop’s cats and dogs, respectively, while you sip away (I have yet to go to one of those because the US health code is so ingrained in my brain, but the idea is cool for people who can’t have pets at home).

7.  Sticking out like a sore thumb.  <—Where does that saying come from anyway?  I know some people probably hate this part, but I love it.  It makes me easy to spot in a crowd when my friends try to find me, especially since I am blonde, and the store owners always remember you.  Plus although some people may stare because you are different, that only gives you free range to act ridiculous (not in a drunken college American way, but in a goofy, dance around the subway platform way).  If they are going to stare, why not give them something to watch?

8.  Well-dressed men.  Ladies, hands up if you hear me on this one.  The younger men here can look like they just walked out of a magazine.  Some are tall and thin which means those runway type clothes are made for them.  They can pull off suits, geek chic, capris and popped collars without even trying.  It’s nice to see the men put in a little effort, like male birds showing off their colorful feathers for the ladies.

9.   Cocohodo.  This lovely little pastry-esque thing is a favorite of mine.  They have entire stores dedicated to making this and the smell wafting from those stores is intoxicating.  Cocohodo is about the shape and size of a golf ball.  The outside is made of a pancake-like dough and inside is bean paste and a walnut.  Usually wrapped individually and packaged warm in a protective box.  I can’t get enough of them.  Not sure what to get me for my next birthday?  How about a box of them all for me that I don’t have to share.  😉

10.  T-Money.  This little doohicky (sometimes in the form of a credit card or a cell phone charm) is used as a prepaid system for the subways and buses.  It is so well integrated that I can transfer from a bus to a subway during one trip and it doesn’t charge me for the second leg.  On top of that, you can also use T-Money for other things like taxis and vending machines.  With automatic recharging machines and a discount in subway/bus fares, you can’t beat it.

I’m sure there are lots more, but my brain is not working well tonight.  When I think of more reasons for liking or disliking Korea, I shall pass them on.  In the meantime, TTFN and sweet dreams of debt-free days…