The Scariest Thing in South Korea

So, in order to show you the scariest thing in South Korea, Rachel and I had a photoshoot–because really, there are no words that can do this justice.

Here we are!

RachelandIcollage

Lookin’ all normal (well…relatively).

But wait! What’s that!?

whatsthat

That’s our inner (outer?) Hannibal Lectors, and um, we paid money for this product. For some reason.

obviouslybeautiful

This is the South Korean version of a face mask. For beautification. Like, after you emerge from your horror flick, you’re more beautiful.

horrorflick

Or something.

orsomething

It’s not smearable. Or wash-off-able (really, it’s more of a stick on-then-peel-off action). You’re supposed to let it be in contact with your face for 20 minutes, but that’s hilarious.

We clearly just finished burying someone.

We clearly just finished burying someone.

But luckily, when you’re done, your face looks like your face again.

LookinNormal

And thank goodness.

EDIT: For a fun mini-lecture on why we find things creepy (including lots of information on facial ambiguity), head on over to my favorite vsauce video

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Sea Kayaking and not-cliff jumping

Before I tell you all about the sea-kayaking adventure Rachel and I had on Sunday, we have to talk about jellyfish. We saw several.

The jellyfish we saw were bigger than any I’d ever seen–we saw a few in the water (the biggest about 2 feet across) and several on the sand, beached and dying. The ones on the sand were quite large:

StephwithJellyfish

Brave new friend Stephanie, with scary big jellyfish

And the biggest one we saw was almost the size of a dining room table. I thought this was impressive, so I went home to look these jellyfish up, and guess what?

The ones we saw were babies. Cute lil babies. This is how big they are full-grown. They’re called Noruma’s Jellyfish:

picture courtesy of toosquid.com

picture courtesy of toosquid.com

Anyway.

The sea-kayaking was a daytrip via Adventure Korea, and it was pretty fun. Rachel and I paddled with a group of about 30 people around 2 beaches and an island, jumped off a big rock (they called this “cliff jumping”, but that’s untrue), and lounged on the beach like we were heiresses. Or, I did my best heiress impression. Rachel succeeded at looking dignified. We both got horribly sunburned (really badly…we both had to wear skirts Monday because pants were just TOO MUCH PRESSURE). It was lots of fun.

Post-kayaking, we went on the shortest hike ever, and saw gorgeous, gorgeous rock formations–and 2 houses!

(Houses are really rare around Seoul, so this was maybe a bigger deal than it should have been.)

post-hike, pre-burn assessment.

All in all, it was an awesome day.

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Drinking in Korea (an absolutely alcoholic guide)

Are you familiar with Blackout Korea?

I wasn’t before I came here, and I might not be now, if the downstairs patio of my building wasn’t a perpetual Drunken Uncle convention. On any given morning,  a number of sketchy-looking middle-aged men can be seen passed out in their chairs, surrounded by far too many empties, cigarette burning into an ever-lengthening ash in their hand. I asked my lovely host if this is common public patio behavior, and was directed to be above website.

It’s not a hugely common thing–I mean, it’s not like masses of people are sprawling about common areas in a drunken stupor EVERY day at 11, or even most days. But drinking culture here is definitely…vibrant. This is due mostly to the ridiculous cheapness of alcohol, and the complete lack of open container laws.

Soju is, hands-down, the cheapest way to artificially lose your inhibitions–$4 buys you almost 2 L, and depending on the brand, it’s 17-45% alcohol by volume (have fun guessing! I’ve yet to see a brand with this information listed on the label). It’s tasteless (maybe slightly sweet?), and colorless.

Soju

Foreigners tend to do really classy things, like throw a bottle in a bag for drink mixing out-and-about, while Koreans seem to be more likely to take it neat. When I hear the phrase “taken neat”, I tend to think about aged scotch in a clear glass tumbler, resting casually in the large, manly hand of someone with a well-groomed mustache and too much money, probably consumed in front of the fireplace of a warm and well-furnished master den as a blizzard rages outside. Soju, taken neat, is…not like that. More classy than mixing-on-the-go, less classy than anything served in a clear glass tumbler anywhere.

Soju is the mixer I suppose vodka tries to be–it just does it better. You’d have to mix SO MUCH Soju with something to detect that it was spiked at all, and it gets thrown into everything. Anything sold in tiny convenience store bottles is fair game, beer is fair game (it’s really common to do that in restaurants), coffee is fair game (because who needs FourLoko?).

For those who want mixed drinks (in the most literal sense) on the tightest of budgets, convenience stores also have these little juice or coffee packs (similar in packaging to capri sun?) you can buy for $1. And, because convenience stores here take that classification very seriously, they will pour your coffee/juice into a provided cup of ice for you (with lid and straw!)…and let you just go ahead and spike it right there on the counter. I cannot imagine how it could possibly be any more convenient. For you mathematicians out there, that means that if you buy the $1 juice/tea/coffee, and add 3-5oz of soju (at the price of about 6 cents an oz, from either the $4 1.8 L bottle or the $1 .5L bottle, which is small enough to fit into the average purse), you can get a pretty formidable drink for $1.18-$1.30. And because you’re in Seoul, you can carry that cheap drink with you and consume it all the live-long day. And because there are convenience stores at least every 2 blocks, you can do that forever and ever amen, without ever hitting a bar.

If Soju isn’t your thing, you can always hit a bar and order something familiar. Might I suggest a Hot6 and vodka (Hot6 is essentially Redbull)? Because everyone will, invariably, refer to the drink as a “hot sex and vodka”, and how funny you find this is a good gauge for how soon you should stop drinking.

The beer selection, barside or otherwise, is in general not awesome, but I say that coming from Austin, and we’re all hipster-proud of our craft brews. Heineken is always easy to find, Budweiser’s available, and there are lots of japanese beers to be had. These can all be bought relatively cheaply ($1-3 per can or bottle), in various quantities at (where else?) your local convenience store.

You can drink here, you can drink there, you can drink anywhere, but if it’s the weekend, you should probably be drinking in Hongdae (cheap and full of clubs, with a free park that is generally full of foreigners who are happy to gather and mingle and speak english) or Gangnam (like the song. More expensive than Hongdae, a bit classier, caters to a slightly older-but-no-more-responsible crowd). The subway system closes down around 1, and won’t reopen until 5:30, but there are cabs aplenty, and lots of options for staying out–the clubs don’t close, restaurants will be open and willing to give sobering patrons all the water they need, and you can buy a temporary stay at a public bathhouse for $10-$15.

And all of those options are better than blacking out with the drunken uncles.

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A Chopstick Tutorial

My first meal in Seoul was a very humbling experience. It consisted of  (in ascending order of difficulty): miso soup, kimbap, rice, coleslaw, kimchi, Weird Unnamed Gelatin Block, and fried pork. Rachel was super-patient, but it took me forever to wrestle with the metal sticks beside my plate, and she was kind enough to give me pointers, over and over, until I got it.  Now meals aren’t nearly as hard.

Maybe, dear reader, you are all kinds of wildly proficient with chopsticks. That’s awesome!

But maybe you’re not.

And maybe Rachel can help.

After 9 months in Korea, she’s kind of a chopstick master. This is her basic guide:

Chopstick 1 goes in your hand like this.

firstchopstick

And then you add chopstick 2:

chopstick2

You’ll know you’re doing it right when the top chopstick feels like an extension of your index finger–it’s the only one that should be moving. Good luck!

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Drinking in Korea (a non-alcoholic taste test)

There are a huge number of small, cutely-labeled drinks sold in Seoul’s convenience stores.

Being hopelessly monolingual, I can’t read the labels– but that’s hardly stopped me from sampling. Does it still count as a taste test if you can’t check your answers?

KoreanDrinks

1. Soymilk. Nuttier than expected. Weird particulates at the bottom. Delicious.

2. English translation! This is “corn silk tea”. Tastes like what would happen if you took unpopped popcorn kernels, soaked them in water for about 9 hours, and then drank the water. I’m a fan.

3. Black coffee. Coffee is universally permissible. You are absolutely not allowed to eat/drink on the subway…unless it’s coffee. You also can’t eat/drink in school…unless it’s coffee. Consumed at entirely unreasonable hours, by nearly everyone.

4. The most controversial drink on this list. This is barley water (I think?) and so it mostly tastes like a nonalcoholic bourbon, which I find tolerable and interesting. Rachel says it tastes like ass.

5. I am 90% sure this is sweetened aloe juice, and 100% sure I don’t want to drink this again.

6. Vinegar fruit juice concentrate. I’ve heard that this “is good for you”, but I’m not sure why. Similar to Mio in the states, this is just a way to spice up whatever water you’re already drinking. Tastes slightly bitter, mostly fruity, comes in lots of flavors.

7. Caramel coffee (also available in vanilla and chocolate). Seems to be mostly milk.

8. Unable to identify. Tastes like bark.

9. OH NO THIS IS BANANA MILK. I thought this was just regular milk, or at least not-banana milk, and now I have trust issues, deep feelings of regret, and a stain on my soul. I cannot believe this occurred. I was aware of the danger of accidentally picking up a bottle of satan’s fruit juice (because milk comes in lots of flavors, and banana is one of them), but I took precautions against it by not selecting anything that had a picture of a banana on it, or that had yellow writing, or that looked vaguely thick, and I thought I had identified everything that could possibly be banana milk, and I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

10. English translation! Raisin water. Tastes mostly like tea, with a bitter-fruity aftertaste. Not even a little bit grape-y. Good for flushing disgusting banana flavors out of your mouth.

On a totally unrelated note, I’m going to go learn how to read the word “banana” in Korean…

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Greetings!

Anneyonghaseo!

I arrived Friday night, and successfully made it to Rachel’s apartment–I was initially worried about subway navigation but it turned out to be a huge non-issue. Weird observation: when you’re riding the subway and all the seats are taken, people stand (duh)–but they stand facing inward, towards the people who are sitting, as opposed to outward, towards the middle of the car/opposite windows, which feels most normal to me. I didn’t notice this norm until I was clearly facing the wrong direction, which felt very similar to standing backwards in a crowded elevator. When I corrected myself, I had no idea what to do with my eyeballs. Do you drill holes into the forehead of the person sitting in front of you? Stare out the window? Look to the side (what if there’s someone there? If there’s not, how do you choose who to stand in front of?)? Make awkward eye contact? Close your eyes (tightly? In a relaxed way? How can you tell when you’ve arrived at your stop?)?

It was fine. It was so beyond fine; I worried over nothing. Almost as soon as the train started moving, the person sitting in front of me pushed up his glasses, took out his neon-yellow phone, pulled a 12-inch antenna out of the side, and began furiously playing something that beeped a lot. His friends were enthralled. Looking cool (or my version of cool) was clearly not the goal.

The goal, actually, was getting to Rachel (the lovely lady in my last post), and oh my gosh, is it good to see her again. It’s amazing to me how, 7000 miles from home, she has managed to make her apartment so very home-y. I basically felt like I’d just walked into her old room at the co-op.

RachelCollage

We went out on Saturday night and danced until I couldn’t move my arms. Rachel showed me how to get far too drunk on far too little money in Hongdae (a district with myriad clubs and cheap food), and we spent the next day “recovering”…which is a one-word term for “watching 7 hours of Game of Thrones”.

So, um, I might never go home.

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Three reasons why the 24-hour trip to Seoul was awesome

  • This girl. Oh, how I have missed this trilingual badass. Look at her. LOOK AT HER. How can there be that much fantastic all in one place? Even if the trip had been a nightmare (it wasn’t), it would have been worth it to see this lovely lady.

IMG_0273

  • Vanilla gelato. I’m a long-standing lover of all things chocolate, but you know what? They did not serve chocolate anything on the way to Seoul. They served vanilla gelato, along with a little packet of pretzels and a ham sandwich, and it was the first meal I’d been able to eat in far too many hours and it might possibly have been the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. I ate the pretzels on the gelato and it was amazing and I was so hungry and I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to think about vanilla in the same way again. United Airlines, and their little in-flight snack pack, kind of changed my life.
  • Birthing books. I am super-excited about not having to work for the next 3 weeks or so, but I love my job, and so I spent part of my flight to Korea reading Spiritual Midwifery (by Ina May Gaskin). I was feeling a little self-conscious about some of the birth photos in the book, until I looked over at my seatmate and saw his book…which was full of birth photos.
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Street Art

Atlanta is a city.

You may already know that (look at how smart you are!), but my last post was all about green things and a mid-metropolis oasis, so I feel compelled to tell you that I also know that. Atlanta is a city, and it’s big and messy and loud and there’s some awesome street art, ranging from the purely informative:

GoodToKnow

To the artistic.

ByTheBridge

There’s old art, which was included as part of the road construction:

OldArt

And new art, which was added later:

FrameItWell

This is my favorite, by far.

GuardFox

This isn’t technically street art, but if I had a commercial business in a neighborhood that loved their wall-paint, I might make this my sign, too:

Yoga

This old building makes me think of greek myths, despite the fact that I know of no greek myths that feature badass women riding velociraptors (…and that’s kind of a shame):

MythDino

And this was really weird, but I loved it. A modern Green Man?

WoodMan

Like a liger…but a cross between different animals. An elephand?

Elehand

 

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At-Land-Ah

So, I landed in Atlanta on Thursday…which makes it sound like I flew. I didn’t. My proposed 1-day driving marathon turned into a 2-day road trip with a stop-over in Jackson, Mississippi (where I did no sightseeing, and so I cannot tell Jackson from a hole in the ground), but the first thing I did in Atlanta was visit a land trust, so that makes me feel like “landing” is an appropriate verb. I walked all over some land. I looked all over some land. I land-ed.

The Lake Claire Community Land Trust is a block of land with some gardens, and an amphitheater (with a weekly drum circle), and some animals, and some ponds, and some trails, that is open to the public. There’s another section of it that is composed of rentable houses, and that’s closed to the public…so I didn’t go there. But if I ever move to Atlanta, I’d totally want to live there. It seems awesome awesome awesome.

When you first walk on to the property, there are a bunch of fruit trees.

Split Apple

I’m sure that split in the apple means something…like the Virgin Mary on Toast, or patterns in salt. Exactly that significant.

Also, there were figs. Because this is Eden, and fig leaves have to come from somewhere.

Figs

After the fruit trees. you find this guy:

BigLou

This is Big Lou the Emu. He has duck-friends, and dinosaur-feet. He likes melons, leaves, and long walks on the beach (preferably leafy beaches with melons). He dislikes cameras.

MallardFriend

Duck-friend

DinoFeet

Dinosaur-Feet

After you pass Big Lou, you find the Center Of The Known Universe.

UniverseCenter

So that’s legit. After you pass that, you find some thrones/oversized chairs.

These are way better than the Iron Throne, because they’re made of wood, not swords (…there’s a joke in there somewhere), and Joffery has never ever sat in them, not even once ever. And there are hearts carved on the bottom of them.

HeartCarving

It was here, sitting on the Lovely Throne, that I realized how terribly my shoes were suited for landing in Atlanta. Who wears these:

NIceShoes

to walk on this?

MuddyTrail

WalkingShoesThis girl.

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Pre-Trip Haiku

My tonsil is huge-

on the right side it hurts me.

I want it removed.

The piece of poetic genius you see above is not symbolic.

I’ve spent the last 22 years of my life on blissfully ignorant terms with my tonsils. That all changed a day ago, and holy cheeseballs, are they miffed (at first it was just the right side, and now the left side has totally joined the fight). I’ve tried apologizing, I’ve attempted to drug them into submission, drown them in saltwater, and coat ’em with tea, all to no avail. Every time I use my handy-dandy penlight to take a look, they look more and more upset.

This does not bode well for a good send-off to Atlanta in 53 hours (not that I’m counting, or excited). I’m all kinds of thrown off my game. For one thing, I am not even close to being packed, which is an Obnoxious Thing, because about 48 hours before, I’d really really like to be just a little bit packed. Like, just a smidge. By this point in pre-trip planning, I would have liked to put aside some clothes and secured a hostess gift and maybe picked a general route for the almost 1000-mile journey. Instead, by this point in pre-trip planning, I have called into work sick (Hateful. who wants to play with tonsils when they could be playing with placentas? ENT docs, and I just don’t get their decision-making process), had a glassy-eyed marathon of The Office, made a pro/con list for home-based tonsillectomies  and successfully eaten 1 bowl of soup (which gives me a 33% success rate, thus far)! I’d love to add “slept way too much” to that list, but I haven’t been able to sleep much, which means this obligatory pre-trip post is written mostly in a state of delirium (apologies for the state of the haiku?).

Anyway. I really wanted to post something cheesy and predictable pre-trip (Hunter in my bag? A picture of roadfood? An updated list?), but this seemed more accurate. I’ll arrive in Georgia far too late to post something on Wednesday, but I’m bonkers excited to have an excuse to post later this week. The food will be awesome, the scenery will be gorgeous, the road will be long, and just the thought of visiting my educational crush has got me all hot-n-bothered.

But then again, that could just be the fever.

Off to remove my tonsil(s),

S

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