Monday, April 28, 2008

things i wouldn't be caught dead doing home...

...that i shamelessly do here:

*i hang out at dunkin' donuts. ok, let me explain. they're considered kind of 'cool' here, and they look great! unlike the ugly, run-down north american shops, the korean dd's look so cute, all pink and orange with plush cushions and little wooden tables. they're really clean and modern, and offer decent coffee at the lowest price i could find in korea. i mostly go for the bagels, they're hard to find in korea and nothing beats a mouthful of cream cheese.

*i party at 7-eleven. then again, 7-eleven are kinda 'cool' here. there is one every single street corner, and they're very.... convenient. they sell food, snacks, ice cream, and soju of course. you can sit outside on the patio and chill out and have a drink.

*i bought a dress with ruffles AND sequins. wh-wh-whaaat??! i need to fit in with korean girls!

*i walk in 4-inch shiny black heels once in a while. once again, i try to blend in.

*i own a t-shirt with doubtful english writing.

*i own some hello kitty paraphernelia.

*i sleep in blankets straight from alice in wonderland, complete with ruffles and pastel pink and green. (provided by the school).

*i shower over the toilet. (okay, okay, i mention it every time i know)

*i watch 'gossip girl'... and 'oprah'... and some style show with tim gunn... and reality shows... there is a limited choice in english television channels.

*i eat rice twice a day.

*i sing the animal song and dance along with the second graders, complete with my own imitations of a giraffe, zebra and lion. they still don't seem to know which is which, they always stare at me with no expression.

*i go to public baths (okay, i went once, but still).

*i read excerpts from the bible and make up prayers on the morning meeting at the school (it's a very christian school).

*i ate at TGI Friday's... and it was great.

*i eat various modified soy products.

*i enjoy sleeping on the floor.

*i wear puple plastic sandals in the bathroom.

*i find myself humming along to the korean pop music hits.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

sparkling seoul

a good day in korea makes you feel like you're at the top of the world. equally, a bad day in korea makes you really miss home. i guess that's why i haven't been writing much lately, i go back and forth between loving it and hating it. the love is always stronger than the hate, thankfully.

then i remember that exactly a year ago i got my first taste of bibimbap, at a korean restaurant back in montreal. i remember dreaming of being here and experiencing a new culture and daily excitement. and i remember why i'm here in the first place. i knew some days would be more difficult, and i knew i'd miss my job. but there is a reason why i quit, and i don't have regrets. even though i have mini breakdowns once in a while, i still believe i'm so lucky to be experiencing life in asia.

and exciting it is. seoul is a city that never sleeps, and i try a new thing every single day. however, it gest exhausting. some days i just wish things were.... easy. and simple. i wish i could find the food i like at the grocery store and not have to embarrass myself everywhere i go. sometimes it makes me laugh when i put myself in awkward situations because of the language barrier, but other times it's just plain annoying and frustrating. i am on some weird mood elevator, where one minute can be totally exhilarating, and the next minute completely excruciating. i'm definitely experiencing the culture shock at its best (or worse) right now.

and the things i hate are usually the things i end up loving. sometimes the idea of eating yet another rice meal is nauseating... then i wake up at 6:30am to go out for breakfast only to find myself craving 'gimbap' (california rolls, very popular korean breakfast).

sometimes having my boyfriend sitting right next to me in the staff room right after we just had a stupid argument is annoying.... then i can't help but smile when he comes sit in my class and draws with the second graders.

a crowd of hyperactive fifth graders who jump on me while shouting "vivian teacher, vivian teacher!!!!" can be overwhelming at 8:30am... but there is no better feeling in the world knowing those kids look up to you and can spend 20 minutes looking at Canadian currency and asking you questions about your country.

and there is nothing more disgusting than hearing people spitting in the street (trop common here...) or carrying pig's heads at 1am (a mental image i'm trying to erase)... then again, the next day you find yourself sitting at a restaurant enjoying the best bibimbap in town, served by the nicest korean people.

going to a dvd bong on a saturday night.... which is basically a private room with a couch and a big screen to watch a movie of your choice (looking a bit sketchy but clean). i would never have done that in montreal.

and... where else can you sit on a swing, in a décor reminescent of 'alice in wonderland', while sipping a fruit smoothie?

only in korea.

homesickness level: high. i still refuse to pay 5$ for a taco seasoning mix in itaewon (foreigner town)... looking like it's been sitting on that shelf since 1996.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

j'aime, je n'aime pas.

things i don't like about korea:

*the coffee. it's expensive (4$ for a regular cup of good ol' filtered coffee...) and the affordable coffee mix (basically a dry mix of cream, sugar and coffee in which you add water) is repulsive.
*living right behind the school. i miss my morning routine of taking the subway, people-watching, listening to my ipod, getting my starbucks.... having a little me time before facing the real world.
*the lack of cheese!! cheese is nearly impossible to find. the only kind available is processed cheese. and the only brie i found was like 12$ for a tiny portion. boo hoo.
*the clothing sizes. everything is tiny. luckily i fit in everything, but it makes me feel fat. go figure.
*pushy people in the subway. koreans literally jump on empty seats in the subway, and push you back in when you're trying to get out.
*teaching grade 2. most of them can be found hiding under their desks screaming.

things i like about korea:

*teaching grade 4. i love them. they seem to love me too, i have so much fun with them.
*living right behind the school: no need for a commute after a long day of work.
*the abundance of cafés: holly's coffee, starbucks, 7 monkeys, coffee bean & tea leaf... on every corner. if only it was affordable.
*the variety in shopping. so many stores! so many clothes to choose from! so many brands!
*cheap and cute skincare and makeup: étude house, skin food... fun and affordable stuff.
*the accessories: scarves, belts, shoes, earrings, hair clips.... sooo cheap, so many of it.
*cheap food and drinks. you can get a fantastic meal with alcohol for under 10$.
*bibimpap: my favourite korean dish. a mixture of rice, vegetables, beef, an egg and spicy pepper paste. delicious.
*going out to eat au quotidien: no need to cook so much since it's cheaper to go out, although i really enjoy the occasionnal pasta dinner or french toast breakfast preparé par le boyfriend.
*the saunas: although i've only been once, i think i'll be found there frequently.
*the heated floors: nothing beats lying on a warm floor and watching a movie on a chilly day.
*koreans generosity: koreans are helpful and very giving, always there for you if you need anything. i always feel very welcomed anywhere i go. parents of my students also often leave random treats on my desks, like starbucks drinks or cookies.

things i'm still not sure about:

*showering over the toilet. part of it is funny, but i'm a bit tired of it. however, you can clean up the entire bathroom while you shower, which is efficient.
*teaching in slippers: it's comfortable but ugly.
*gym uniforms: see above.

homesickness factor: up and down like a rollercoaster these days.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

...and more uniforms.

i almost have a life in seoul. today i proudly got my own korean bank account and a debit card... all by myself. equipped with a korean sentence on paper (translation of 'opening a bank account please') and my alien registration card, i took a new step into my korean life. they even showed me how to use the atm, i'm all set to go shopping now.

with my first paycheck (finally) also came the membership at the gym. it's a small but adequate gym located in my neighbourhood, a 5 minute walk from my apartment. apparently they don't give you a membership card, i don't know what's the deal. perhaps they recognize you, but aaron told me they give you a locker for the duration of your membership. i must have misunderstood the instructions, it was quite confusing once again. the lady at the front desk took me to the locker room and showed me around. one locker for your sneakers (with the most complicated lock i've ever seen), and one locker for my clothes. i still don't get the two-locker system. oh well. she then proceeded to show me a big pile of... yes, uniforms. apparently you are not obligated to wear them, but everyone else in the gym does. navy sport shorts (uh, long shorts) and an orange and grey baseball tee. the lady watched me to make sure i put on the uniform... a bit odd. once in the workout room, things seemed a bit more familiar. except the treadmills are in korean, but i figured it out. you also have a personal television monitor on your treadmill, so i watched a korean variety show. then again i need a picture of the uniform, it made me look like a little boy.

last but not least, another confusing adventure in korea land. after school today i walked in a trendy hair salon to see how much it would cost to get my hair color fixed (for some reason i get brassy tones from past highlights, wanted a uniform brown color). so i walk in requesting information and possibly an appointement at a later date. they make me sit at a consultation table, bring me a coffee as i'm trying to tell the girl (who does not speak a single word of english) 'i want the price for brown hair color'(excitedly pointing to a picture on the wall). next thing i know i'm wearing a robe and have two girls working on my hair. wow, no appointment needed, and apparently no explaining needed either. i was nervous and confused. they did a pretty great job, even though it's a tad bit darker than my natural brown (i don't think have so many shades to choose from). i also had two other girls blow drying my hair at once, then trying to style it. for some reason they cannot really style our type of hair, they're not used to it so it ended up looking a bit odd. i'm very happy though, but a little scared about an eventual haircut.

in the end, every simple activity like getting a haircut or a bank account or a gym membership turns into a mini adventure in seoul, which makes it fun to learn i guess.