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Archive for the ‘Search and Korea Trip’ Category

Getting Ready for my Trip

19 Feb

I had been waiting for this for 20+ years and the only way to get to Korea was to use my parents–I had no funds after being drained by my last boyfriend and failing to become financially independent. I had to wait through the renovation of the attic when they renewed their mortgage, I waited through their 3,000 dollar speakers, I waited in college when she said we might go, and then I tried to save for it when she kept being wishy-washy. Then I waited more… and then I got to go on May 2, 2008. This is the account from that time:

This is kind of surreal, like I didn’t really experience this. That something will happen to prevent me from going on that plane to Asia. Maybe I’m just not thinking straight and I’ve imagined this whole thing up.

I prepared a whole lot. I have support system for all three countries, people to take care of me, and I’ve made an effort to learn all three languages necessary for the trip. I still don’t feel satisfied, but I think I’ve tried my best.

I the past year I’ve learned Korean, brush up my Japanese and taught myself basic Mandarin. God bless the subbing community for dramas… I couldn’t have done it without them. Dramas have saved me a lot of heartache on this trip.

I wish my Mom wasn’t so scared before this point and she hadn’t made so many excuses about why we shouldn’t go. But I can’t change the past or her. So I’ll take what I have. But now I’ve arrived at this point, I’m going to make the best of it. I’m not sure how I’ll get along with my parents on this trip, but I’ll do my best.

I’m excited and packing. I’m even shifting my internal clock to Korean time. I hope it works!

 
 

Airplane and Electronics

19 Feb

Plane to Korea

May 2-May 3
I made several dorky errors. First I booked the wrong day for the ride to the airport, so I was forced to cancel then call a taxi. (Damn that International Date Line)

Then I didn’t know how to get a hand cart. Then the golf club which I was asked to bring at the airport had to be packed into a nondescript box. Which got me much later.

Then I was totally lost and confused after that point when I went the wrong way in the airport heading towards the wrong exit. I don’t think I was thinking straight.

I then talked to a halmoni. I talked to her in Korean. I could undertstand her only a little. But I pretended to understand her perfectly. She talked very nice to me. She said things like she used to sew when she was younger. She said many things to me that I could understand, but I didn’t know how to reply.

For a fleeting moment I wondered what my grandparents would have been like if they were alive. Would they be like this halmoni? A fleeting feeling of sadness overtook me. Even if this halmoni felt nothing like any of my grandparents, I still felt like I had missed my own grandparents.

My grandparents died when I was in the United States. I feel sad that I missed them.

Then I fumbled with my cellphone. I wanted to pretend for a while that I was Korean and fluent in English. When I was waiting a friend called me and was talking in Korean, but they all stared when I started to talk in English.
***

I finally got onto the plane and fumbled with my carry on items and then again into the overhead bin. I took out my sketchbook and some Hwatu. (go stop) cards) which finally fit.

However, I seem to have a jinx today with me and electronics. I wonder if this is something that just happens when I travel internationally. ’cause last time I traveled internationally the Italian bus system wouldn’t take any of the tickets I tried to feed it.

The plane flight was like first class in the United States. There were three or four full course meals with tea. Because I spoke English, the Flight attendants assumed that I didn’t speak Korean well and also assumed that I didn’t like hot food.

During most of the transition from the Airport to Ajumma’s house the people assumed I wasn’t Korean. I had to say “Miguk Saram ieyo” at which point they lost interest in me… like I didn’t speak the phrase well. So apparently it’s great for a non-Asian to speak very good Korean, but it’s horrid that you don’t speak Korean if you’re Korean, but not fluent.

I should note that I unwittingly dressed a bit Japanese. I think the black leaf belt kind of gave that impression, though the tired look on my face and the slouching should have give much more away.

***

Customs was easy… I took pictures of it too. I keep forgetting that the US customs people get frustrated and bored so they like picking on people trying to get in, especially Americans. Especially Americans of the non-white variety, I should say–in my life I’ve been picked on twice.

***

So I’m standing in the airport terminal I have all of the bags except the golf club I was told to bring. Ajumma wants them and I see bringing these things as a kind of exchange. I really only needed one suitcase, but then I brought 2 plus a golf club, which somehow is seen as a dangerous item. Haha. (Even my friend in the US laughed hearing that. “Four” the airplane??)

I had to struggle with the hand truck, which is free in Korea to take and then in my rather American manner stumble around trying to find the place where the golf club went. I’m so exhausted and tired I decide to get the cellphone “handphone” first. My posture is becoming more and more American by the second, i.e. slouch and people are staring at me on occasion. Haha. For once I don’t care. I have two heavy suitcases, two heavy carry-on and my organization has just gone to hell from trying to find things and having to shift so much around.

I finally get the cellphone and a person from the airline hands me the golf club. I’m sweating like nuts from the stress of having to shift half of my stuff around, not knowing where my passport is and my Korean not being able to kick in properly because I keep hearing all four languages I’ve studied everywhere, which to my poor little brain is a nightmare. I don’t even think I know English that well.

I start to give up and speak in Korean to English questions. People speak English back to me, I reply in Korean. I feel like a bit of an idiot as I’m dropping the verb and I’m so tired that I can’t even hear people straight.

I finally get onto the bus and then after seeing several trucks that look like the one in Fantasy Couple, crossing the bridge in Fantasy Couple, Building 63 and the KBS building, which is astoundingly a bit closer Incheon than Seoul, I finally realize I’m in Korea. My nerves and heartbeat start beating more rapidly.

I find that some of the cultural things I picked up in drams is true!

1. The trucks in Fantasy Couple *really* do look like that. And there are a lot of them.

2. The driving in Seoul is nuts. It’s practically bumper to bumper. Someone cut off the driver about 3 times. One of the cars got so angry that it cut off the driver and then came to a full stop almost making the driver hit it. It then honked at him and then the driver honked back.

3. The toilets really do have low water in them. It’s like an airplane toilet in the US, very little water in the bowl.

4. There are baths with a complex system in it. However, I haven’t seen anyone take a bath in one…

5. There are doors with codes to them rather than keys.

However, I’d like the bust the myth that there are a lot of black cars. I’m pretty sure that black cars don’t hunt pedestrians down. In general, there is an underground shopping system and walking system under the streets so one doesn’t really have to use the sidewalks. Plus the public transportation is good. I guess dramas are trying to show how nuts the driving is. Plus pedestrians often don’t obey the signs that say “stop and go”

New things they don’t tell you:
1. You will need an adapter for a Korean plug. It has two round prongs to it. It’s not the rectangular prongs they usually talk about.

2. You can walk most of Seoul completely underground. For some reason dramas really don’t want to show this part of Seoul! Personally, I think it’s cool

3. All large streets have an underground tunnel, you can cross underneath.

4. It’s confusing sometimes distinguishing between a subway and an underground tunnel. Look for the green sign with the subway train on it.

5. The circular subway has English, Japanese and Korean on it. There are a lot of Japanese tourists.

6. The fashion right now has shifted. It used to be bright colors now it’s more neutrals, like black and white with little splashes of color. Plus they do wear sneakers. For some reason dramas like dressing up the people in them nicer than the reality and also uses brighter colors! I have yet to spot a girl that wears sneakers though.

Recommendations so far:
Ride the Green line (2) around Seoul. It’ll take about 2 hours to complete the circuit and even though I made a mistake in taking it around, I think it’s worth it. You may even recognize some of the scenery. Plus the trains don’t seem to be that packed beyond rush hour times, but even so it’s much less.

On the subway, they don’t cross their legs. To count, I’ve seen people just look down at their bags, no one looks around, very few people talk on the train except close friends and they will look at you if you look around. (One guy was staring at me… an office worker. I wonder why…) Women hold their bags in front. Very few jackets too. I was kind of surprised at that… in the US people always have a jacket on hand *somewhere* I didn’t see that much, even the halmoni or Ajumma…

Score:
Aissi 0

aigoo 4

Aiyu 4
Ayo 1

Aigo 1

 
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First Shot of Seoul

19 Feb

This was my first picture of the city. The sun is just about setting. And I was surprised that the lights of Seoul are so strong and how much its blended into Incheon. The bus ride was really short. I also was able to see stations buildings coming in and though you can’t see it, I also saw Building 63.

My heart was pounding very, very hard at this point, excitement was filling me. I was also trying very hard to get my brain to kick into Korean and was thrilled that I understood the majority of what people were saying, even in casual conversations. It kind of felt like going home, but not being familiar with what that home really looked like any more. I think I started to feel more philosophical and connected to my surroundings.

 
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KBS Building

19 Feb

I passed the KBS building and my heart leaped. I had weird fantasies about seeing celebrities there.

But I missed getting a clear shot, but I didn’t have the heart to clear it from my camera. Every picture of Korea seemed precious to me at the time–even the blurry ones, because I realized that I didn’t know when or how I could return.

 
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Korean Traffic Dummy

19 Feb


The bus stalled near some construction. There was a lot of construction in Korea going on. As the bus slowed, I saw this dummy. I thought it was a real person, but it was wet out and dark and the thing wasn’t moving. As we passed it I laughed at it.

I showed this picture to my Korean friend later and she said, “What is that?” and then blinked and didn’t know they did that, even though she’s lived in Seoul for most of her life.

At this point, a lot of the tension built inside of me dropped and realization was almost coming over me. One of those cliché moments of the dream come true, but you can’t believe it. I realized why it was called a cliché.

It did occur to me, that the dummy had Caucasian features…

 
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Near Hotel

19 Feb

So Ajumma was late in picking me up and I was a bit lost. You see, the hotel plaza square has three major parts to it–it has occurred to me, because of the view, they have used that hotel before in dramas.

This presented some drama and some problems as well. But the people of Korea are helpful if you ask something they won’t turn their back on you. So after struggling, the I found some people to talk to Ajumma that I was supposed to stay with. My Korean was still scrambled and it wasn’t that good from some amount of hours of language switching and I couldn’t figure out which words were Korean and which were Japanese.

Overall, it was a real pain to get over. After some fumbling with two heavy suitcases and a golf club, plus one carry on bag, I finally was picked up. By now I was in half a daze not sure what to think or do. But Korean intuition is so quick, that she picked up on that and only asked a few questions here and there, and we chatted mainly in English. My head buzzed with Korean, English, Mandarin, Japanese and all those airport languages. I felt like my ears should be ringing. We made our way to her apartment and had to drag the suitcases up the stairs. An Ajussi helped us that guarded the apartment.

Upon getting into the apartment she scolded me for not taking off my shoes in that Korean no-business way. Later on I got really good about lining up my shoes. Half dazed and in disbelief, I looked across her pristine linoleum floor. And took off my shoes. There was a desk and a television. Outside of her windows was a picturesque scene of the river.

She showed me my room and told me to settle down and in a very straight forward way showed me the rules of the house and what was what shuffling her feet in slippers.

I wandered around a little lost and then she started to sort through the suitcase in which I had brought her stuff. She riffled through it and declared after all the trouble I went through, “Yoonmi ya~! I didn’t need this. I’m sorry.”

She nodded in that matter-of-fact manner. “Yeah, I didn’t need this. Mian~”

And to further her apology, “This was all junk. I packed too much.”

I stared at her blankly.

More…

 
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Korean Plug

19 Feb

New things they don’t tell you:
1. You *will* need an adapter for a Korean plug. It has two round prongs to it. It’s not the rectangular prongs they usually talk about.

2. You can walk most of Seoul completely underground. For some reason dramas really don’t want to show this part of Seoul! Personally, I think it’s cool

3. All large streets have an underground tunnel, you can cross underneath.

4. It’s confusing sometimes distinguishing between a subway and an underground tunnel. Look for the green sign with the subway train on it.

5. The circular subway has English, Japanese and Korean on it. There are a lot of Japanese tourists.

6. The fashion right now has shifted. It used to be bright colors now it’s more neutrals, like black and white with little splashes of color. Plus they do wear sneakers. For some reason dramas like dressing up the people in them nicer than the reality and also uses brighter colors! I have yet to spot a girl that wears sneakers though.

Recommendations so far:
Ride the Green line (2) around Seoul. It’ll take about 2 hours to complete the circuit and even though I made a mistake in taking it around, I think it’s worth it. You may even recognize some of the scenery. Plus the trains don’t seem to be that packed beyond rush hour times, but even so it’s much less.

On the subway, they don’t cross their legs. To count, I’ve seen people just look down at their bags, no one looks around, very few people talk on the train except close friends and they will look at you if you look around. (One guy was staring at me… an office worker. I wonder why…) Women hold their bags in front. Very few jackets too. I was kind of surprised at that… in the US people always have a jacket on hand *somewhere* I didn’t see that much, even the halmoni or Ajumma…

Score:
Aissi 0

aigoo 4

Aiyu 4
Ayo 1

Aigo 1

 
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Seoul Street Corner

19 Feb

First thing in the morning, Ajumma got me out of bed and told me in pretty straight forward that I was going to learn how to get to the subway and get to her house. She was going to test me. And she did test me.

She walked me down to the station, cautioned me against the buses that pulled out and basically taught me the ropes of how to be a Korean in Seoul. First day I learned that Koreans never push through a crowd. they walk with the crowd. I saw some foreigners push and weave through. But she was patient and even with the morning day rush, she walked with everyone. No one ran, everyone just walked smoothly as if it were nothing.

She walked me into the station, and negotiated for a bus pass, and since the Korean tradition is that if you stay with someone, you pay for them, she paid for the pass and pushed my money out of the way. I learn fast and accepted it, though my American guilt ate me alive.

On the way out I paused to take a picture of a crowd because the I saw all the colors and I thought it was a really fascinating shot. Something that I had not witnessed in over twenty years. A crowd of Koreans all together in regular life. The cars got in the way.

Ajumma called to me, “Yoonmi ya!”

I turned to run and catch up to her while she grilled me on how to get back to her apartment.

 
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Kimbap Making

19 Feb

So on the way back I spotted a Kimbap shop. I was hungry and I have a fondness for Kimbap, so we stopped in the shop. I didn’t know that Kimbap came in so many varieties. There they had Kimchi Kimbap. In that shop they put in Perilla leaves, which was an interesting experience for me.

I took pictures as it was being made. I felt embarrassed taking pictures so I slipped them in. Ajumma took some of the kimbap, but didn’t eat much. She paid for it. I was learning by then not to feel guilty. I’m a fast study.

 
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First Meal Out in Korea

19 Feb

Since it was the first day, I got lost in the subway, by the time I noticed I was going the wrong way I was half way around the circular track of the two. So I figured I should wait it out.

I really liked trying to blend in, but I accidentally dressed wrong first few times, so I observed and tried to copy people on the train. I could feel my lazy posture, and I learned that the two track is the ideal way to see all different aspects of Seoul. It’s only two dollars American. (2,000 won). Might have gone up to three. And you can see all of Seoul, including the river. This was my chance to blend in. I learned a lot by watching the people on the train.

My Dad called me on my cellphone since I’d exchanged cellphone numbers. My mom was distraught and pissed at me. She was already uptight about going to Korea, which she wouldn’t let me do going alone. But now that we were here, I already could sense the tension in her voice and the paranoia. She must have been thinking deep inside that Korea had already stolen one of her children (my brother who moved to Korea, I think in part, to get away from her and her constant nagging, needling, and control issues) now Korea was going to steal another.

I met up with my parents for lunch outside of their hotel. My mom was acting all tight like a spring and told me, “We went to Starbucks for breakfast.” This, to me, was like saying, “I went to France and ate at McDonalds.”

I hung my head in utter shame and pointing out that she could be more adventurous, I started to feel wound up too. My dad stared off like he’d been putting up with this for a few hours. Because she started saying racist and prejudiced lines like, “I didn’t want a big meal.” I pointed out how prejudiced this was and how hateful, gently, but she kept going, which raised the question of why she adopted me if she couldn’t handle another culture. But then I reminded myself that she saw Korea as a threat like George W. Bush saw Iraq a threat. Like it had Weapons of Mass Destruction. (And we know the result of that…) While she was going in paranoia and control mode, I was trying to figure a way out or at least to compromise with her.

We met with my brother at their hotel too. He was the same. He said yo. I noticed a picture of him and a girl in his wallet. I said nothing. He texted someone on a cellphone, and he did the old, “I’m better than you.” routine. I picked on his Korean pronunciation, because our relationship is like that. I said his pronunciation was flat. When we started to converse in Korean, my mom got uptight and interrupted us because she was pissed and paranoid. (If you’ve read the previous entries you can see she has a paranoia of learning languages and this was a paranoia of not knowing the language in a country that didn’t look like her.)

I had a fleeting thought that her paranoia must feel like the way I felt in the US all those years. I must have better coping mechanisms though.

We went out to lunch at a Seogeopsal. My mom kept talking really uptight and my Dad kept nodding like he was tired of this already. My brother and I walked far ahead of them and we talked in our own code back and forth. One where you know that person so well, that updating them won’t help. I introduced the idea that he should see Appa before we went into the restaurant. He ordered.

On trips I tend to be super adventurous. I will try everything that’s legal outside of my own cultural norms.

When we were in the restaurant, I asked my brother again, if he’d like to visit Appa. My mom, being childish, even though I’d explicitly asked her and she’d agreed, interrupted and said, “But we only have a few days with him.”

I replied, “You agreed previously. I’m asking him.”

My brother declined to see Appa with me. Perhaps later this was for the best, but at the time I was really upset with my Mom for rescinding a promise and letting my brother decide.

Thus the tension continued to build.

 
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