Monday, June 30, 2008

korean randomness

i was going through the pictures on a website dedicated to funny observations of foreigners in korea... here are my favourites:

random mascot in the subway. koreans love animation and anything cartoon-ish or animal-related:

the 'bug fogger'. i've actually experienced it, kinda scary. a motorcycle comes full speed, spraying chemicals to kill mosquitoes. apparently a daily occurrence in the summer. madness!

i think i mentioned 'ajummas' before. they're older ladies, usually quite agressive and rude, they always push people in the subway and steal seats. they love wearing matching outfits and the ubiquitous sun visor. oh yea, and permed hair:

a normal early morning in seoul:

foreigners-only signs...

and a south korean soldier at the north korean border, looks quite scary:

oh, and the "Teeny Weenie" phenomenon... I don't even know where to start. for some reason, this bear is über-popular among kids, teenagers, couples, businessmen, families.... everyone. couples wear matching shirts featuring the Teeny Weenie bear. young men proudly adorn it. i have no idea why it's soooo popular:

until the next time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

il fait chaud

(NYC, summer 2007. backstage at blonde redhead concert)

hailing from montreal, i'm not used to such hot weather. true, we do have hot summer days in montreal, but it nevers lasts. it's hot for a few days, then just warm or unusually cold. but here, it has been hot since the beginning of may, nonstop! and i mean hot. and apparently it gets worse in july and august. i can't imagine how worse it can get, it makes me nervous. i should be on the beaches of thailand and roaming around japan at that time, but still. i wake up at 5am every morning from the heat. oh, perhaps i should figure out how to turn the AC on...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

home sweet home (vive le quebec)

i had to be thousand of miles away from home to actually celebrate quebec's national holiday (and to eat some poutine). it's funny how i never cared so much back home, it was just a good reason to go out and celebrate the first summer days. and i never was a big fan of poutine, quebec's national dish: french fries, gravy and cheese? no thanks.

however, yesterday, i found myself longing for poutine and i got a bit nostalgic while watching a live broadcast of a montreal morning show. i decided to show my fellow canadians and some korean friends a taste of poutine (the canadians already knew what it was). we headed to a canadian pub in itaewon and order the "montreal style poutine" and some cheap beer- doesn't get more quebecois than that, eh?! they did a pretty good job re-creating the dish, the gravy was actually quite tasty. the funniest part was to watch our korean friends eat chicken wings ("only spicy smell. not spicy taste")

i was excited to celebrate in my own little way... actually being away from home makes you appreciate all those things you never thought you'd miss. this coming weekend is Canada Day, and there should be plenty of celebrations going on in seoul. korea has a huge population of canadians (and americans), so whenever you feel a bit homesick there are quite a few options.

as aaron would say, "bin ouin!" (his best french exression, meaning.... uh... "yes")

oh, and where else could you get away with that kind of store name?

seulement en coree!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

(not so) mindless banter

tonight we went out to a nice café to watch a soccer game: north korea vs. south korea. quite a big deal i imagine. the game was not so exciting, and the final score was 0-0. i get the feeling that north korea is a delicate subject when i bring it up with koreans. my students insist that korea is one country (north and south). i think that the general feeling is that they're hoping for re-unification. but then again, what do i know. i never got really in depth with the topic. sometimes i can't believe that north korea is only a short hour ride away from seoul. so close, yet such a different world. i'm quite fascinated by it, but not sure i actually want to go there. it's tempting, but not worth the risk i think. in the meantime i enjoyed the vice magazine documentary about n. korea, it's quite interesting:

in other news, i finally invested in a french press and some coffee beans from starbucks. paying 5$ for a cup of filtered coffee at the coffee bean & tea leaf is just not worth it anymore. coffee is actually a fairly new trend in korea. coffee houses are popping up everywhere, and major american chains are taking over. aaron was saying that when he was here two years ago, there weren't so many cafés. maybe that's the reason why it's so pricey. i'm already excited for the morning now, i don't have to get up 20 min early to go out or miss out and have to drink the instant coffee at school. now all i need is a toaster oven (to compensate for the lack of an oven) and i'll be all set.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

seoul nightlife

maybe i'm getting older, or maybe it's just not my scene, but i've never really been into going clubbing. i've always leaned towards a nice meal at a restaurant, or a few drinks at a lounge. and most of my friends know that i'm always the boring one who stops drinking after one or two drinks. however, the seoul nightlife is pretty amazing, and even though i'm past that phase, i might as well enjoy it a little bit while i'm here.

'nightlife' is not even the right word here- the night goes on all night, until the sun comes up. most bars stay open until 8 or 9 am, as well as most restaurants. the koreans love to party around the clock: when i go get food for dinner, i see businessmen having drinks at local restaurants (and i mean, getting hammered). on a typical weekday, when i walk to the coffee bean to get my espresso at 7am, i see people sitting on the 7-eleven patio, having some beer (probably finishing the night).

you can party anywhere in seoul: restaurants, convenience stores (which encourage people to drink there by setting up tables on the patio and opening your beer for you), karaoke rooms... and um, the sidewalk. the drinking laws seem pretty flexible (or perhaps nonexistent). alcohol is dirt cheap: a bottle of soju (which is a strong as vodka, made from rice) is only 1$, and believe me, most people don't need more than half a bottle. local beers such as Hite and Cass are quite cheap as well (in that case, the taste is proportional to the price).

you can find bars everywhere, and i mean EVERYWHERE here in seoul. there are like, 30 bars within 5 min walking distance of my apartment. most of them are very nice looking, and also quite empty since there are so many to choose from. a typical korean party night starts with a meal at a BBQ restaurant, where you drink shots of soju along the way. it then continues with a night of bar and club hopping, and perhaps a last stop at a noraebang (karaoke room) to show your singing skills and do a few last shots of soju.

thankfully taxis here are quite, quite cheap. you can go from one end of seoul to another for under 20$. after a long night of partying, it's nice to hop into a taxi without worrying too much about the cost. or for the partyers on a budget, you can party until 5 am and wait for the first subway or bus, which is the best option. that's what we did last night, we went for aaron's birthday. started out with a meal of chicken and beer on a terrasse, then we headed to hongdae for some nightlife: a cool bar reminescent of 'clockwork orange', and some sheesha-smoking and dancing until the wee hours. we then had another meal to replenish, at a packed BBQ restaurant. nothing beats kimchi at 4 am. we saw the sun rise and decided to take a rather shaky 40 min bus ride back home... then sleep until 3pm. it was all worth it though. i mean, when else am i going to do stuff like that?!

now i can see why so many people decide to stay in korea for many years: the work situation is great, no rent to pay, and endless, cheap partying. it's not really my cup of tea (don't want to do that every weekend, seoul has so much more to offer), but it's fun while it lasts!

Monday, June 16, 2008

i'm a geek

thanks to a helpful fellow blogger, i figured out how to post pictures...that would be me being silly in front of a huge korean flag...then aaron taking his horsing around on a hike, it started pouring rain so we hid under a rock and played reading paris vogue, which i found at a nice british bar in the upscale neighbourhood.

korean food

i haven't figured out how to post pictures on this blog since i've been 'illegaly' logging in, i need to work on it. i am soon going to dedicate a whole entry to the school's cafeteria, it's worth a look. we are fortunate enough that our school provides us with a free, healthy lunch every day. the whole menu is vegetarian, which i don't have a problem with (except when they present us with fake meat). otherwise the core is always white rice, along with a soup (korean soups are the best, so spicy and filling), and various side dishes. kimchi (fermented cabbage, korea's national dish) is always there, along with a 'fruit of the day'. i always pig out on the fruit... since fruit is soooo, soooo expensive here, i go crazy with the school's fruit. sometimes we gather handfuls of it and run home to make smoothies, yum. sometimes the school lunch is very disappointing (aka white rice and that awful black bean sauce) so i end up starving all afternoon, but it doesn't happen too often. i think we lucked out on the school, they serve pretty good meals.

food outside the school is another story. as i mentioned before, we mostly go out to eat since it's waaayy cheaper. sounds crazy, but it's true. i usually need two small meals, since we eat so early at lunchtime, and i work out at the gym. my favourite options are the BBQ meat- you sit around a grill, you order your choice of meat, grill it and wrap it in lettuce leaves. it comes with various side dishes, which i love. korean food is amazing for that: you never get just one dish, you always get at least 5 or 6 different side dishes along the main course. i also love the porridge, i posted a picture of the pumpkin kind a few weeks ago. i also like gimbap, which are similar to california rolls, and kimchi mandu (dumplings).

western food is available, but rather limited, pricey, and unsatisfying. for instance, pizza here is served with ketchup and mayo splattered on top, and pizza toppings include sweet potato and nacho chips. not always what you have in mind when you're craving a pizza. italian food is a popular option, but most pasta sauces are sugary, which a self-respecting half italian girl should not touch. there are very few other ethnic options, such a middle eastern food, which i came to love and crave since living with my last roommate, an arabic girl with amazing cooking skills.

i must admit i am having a hard time with the food here. some days are great, but others are difficult and frustrating. the problem is not with korean food itself: it's a great type of cuisine, healthy for the most part. the problem is myself, a girl who used to feed herself with a daily salad-and-sandwich combination, or my hummus-pita-baby carrots combo. it's a huge change for me, and i miss salads and hummus. produce is so overpriced here, that keeps me away from making too many salads, and the choice is rather limited.

and some days i get tired of going out to eat, i just want to chill out at home and enjoy some homecooked food. i'm not much of a cook, but i am trying to visit the little market more often to pick up ingredients and get creative. although seeing a 15$ small watermelon and a 10$ tiny bag of cherries makes me want to cry.

the funny thing is, i know i'll miss korean food like crazy when i go home, i'll be craving kimchi and will probably cook rice a few times a week. alright, i'm off to cook some pasta (with 'real' prego tomato sauce, thanks to costco) with mushrooms and green peppers.

Friday, June 13, 2008

summer time

thanks to some tech-savvy pals, i figured out a way to log in, and to see all my favourite websites, mouhahaha. the weather has been so, so hot lately, and apparently it's not even that hot for korea. hmmm, can't wait to see what summer will be like.

i'm getting so excited these days, so many fun things are coming up. the school year ends in july, but the next month will be rather easy: final exams, and 2 weeks of camp. when i first heard there was a camp with the kids, i panicked a little bit at the thought of sleeping in a cabin on bunk beds and waking up at the crack of dawn and running around kids all day. (although i was a camp counselor for several summers, it's a scary thought). fortunately, 'summer camp' in korea means 'intensive english camp' on the school grounds: lots of outdoor activities, field trips, arts and crafts, movies, and writing classes. i think it will be interesting, get to know the kids on other levels.

then... one month of vacation in august! aaron and i are off to tokyo, to the summer sonic music festival... then we'll spend some time visiting the rest of japan. i've always dreamed of going to japan, especially see tokyo. i can't imagine how amazing it will be. and yes, i get to live another 'lost in translation' moment, perhaps stock up on some hello kitty goods (i've always wanted the toaster), and visit sofia coppola's store, milkfed. and eat japanese food- i'm not too familiar with their cuisine, except for sushi. and just experience japanese culture, which i know is very, very different from korean culture.

then... off to thailand for a beach vacation. i can't even remember the last time i actually swam in the ocean, i think it was ages ago. so when i have 'bad korea' days, i remind myself of all the good sides of being here. and honestly the 'bad korea' days are not happening as much these days, i think i'm past the homesickness. i cannot believe i've been here for almost 4 months, time really flies.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

hello from the apple store

exciting news... the school board blocked several websites such as (where am i going to get my daily dose of gossip?!) and, lucky for me, turns out it's not just at school, but at home as well since i'm stealing the wireless signal from.... someone. so anyways, i'll keep posting, probably from pc bangs (internet rooms) or thanks to many people who offered to post for me. alright, so i'm off to finally see SATC, after a year-long wait! thanks, apple store.