It’s Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Winter

Winter!With the first snowfall a few days ago, it is safe to say that winter has officially arrived in Seoul.  Temperatures are dropping, days are growing shorter, and I finally caved in and bought a scarf and hat.  As many people in the world are aware of, I am an outspoken critic of nearly everything involving cold weather but this year I think I’ve decided to suck it up and accept the fact that I can’t hide from the icy Siberian winds blowing through Korea.

It’s a good thing I decided to just deal with winter because the next couple of months are going to be pretty busy.  My last three day weekend was at the beginning of October so I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to leave Seoul.  There are, however, a couple of vacations we get from work in December and January so I’m finally getting an opportunity to get out and see some more of this side of the world.  I decided to post my schedule for the next month just because my skype account might end up going MIA for a little while.

December 17 – Seoul – 12 Bars for the 12 Days of Christmas Bar Crawl

December 24-25 – Gangwon-do (Korea) – Christmas Ski Trip

December 29-January 1 – Beijing!!!

January 7-8 – Gangwon-do (Korea) – Ice Fishing/Ice Festival

January 21-25 – Tokyo!!!

Unfortunately, I also have to go to work in between vacations and work is going to be anything but easy this month.  Starting on December 26 (you know, all of one day after Christmas) my school is starting their winter camps.  Just like the summer camp we did a few months ago, these intensive camps are provided to the students on vacation from their other schools and have parents who feel their children should be in school for approximately 83% of their waking hours.  This means that soon I’ll start my 10-11 hour workdays that will last until after I get back from Japan.  Merry Christmas to me.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Fall

LeavesPeople don’t really put Korea’s weather in guidebooks, praising it like they might do with places like Southern California or the Mediterranean.  It turns out there’s a very good reason why:  Korea has a truly horrendous climate.  On this side of the Pacific the days of the week bounce between the boiling heat and sweltering humidity more associated with Miami in August to the undeniably chilly days that require jackets and sweaters.  However, as of lately there have been more pleasantly crisp fall days than anything else.

With the onset of fall, the leaves have started turning yellow, orange, and red and Seoul’s color palate transforms every few days into something entirely new.  Despite the fact that Seoul’s metropolitan area has around 20 million inhabitants and spreads out for miles and miles, the city is filled with what often seems like just as many trees as people.  I took advantage of the changing of the season and wandered through one of my favorite parts of the city, Changdeokgung Palace, to get a better look at those trees.  The photos below are what I saw in the palace gardens.

Palace and PondThis is Changdeokgung Palace, a palace in Seoul famous for its gardens.  I had already seen the gardens in the summer so I thought it might be worth revisiting them to see the new colors.

Palace WallsThe gardens are on the other side of the palace walls.

CourtyardThe courtyard in the Changdeokgung Palace gardens has a pond, Asian architecture, and (of course) leaves of all colors.

Little Building, Big TreesHere’s to hoping this pleasant fall lasts a little while longer before the Siberian winter inevitably takes hold.

McDonald’s Delivers Big Macs With a Side of Laziness in Korea

McDonald's in Korea

Depending on how you look at it, I reached a new high or a new low today: I ordered McDonald’s home delivery service.  One one hand, I found out that I know enough Korean to order food on the phone and give my address to the delivery people but on the other hand, I got to a point where I was too lazy to walk the couple of blocks to the actual store and get food.  I’m going to go ahead and say I did something pretty cool today.  After all, how many people reading this thing can actually say they have called a McDonald’s hotline, talked to a Korean woman, and were conveniently given french fries by an elderly Korean gentleman 15 minutes later?

When I got back from work today I intended to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner and realized I had no bread.  It should be noted that there is a grocery store across the street from my apartment.  The walk to the store takes about the same amount of time as the elevator ride downstairs.  But with Seoul having turned into the equivalent of a kimchi-loving Antarctica I had absolutely no desire to go back outside.  I ended up doing what any normal person would do and googled how to order McDonald’s in Seoul.

In Seoul little McDonald’s scooters with the trademark “M” on the side can be seen everywhere darting in between cars and zigzagging around pedestrians.  When google informed me that all numbers went to a central calling office and your order would be sent to the closest store to you, I was sold and called the number immediately.  I waited on hold for a couple of minutes until a woman greeted me with a bunch of Korean words I did not recognize.  I pieced the little bits I did understand together and guessed that I was supposed to place and order.  After that she began speaking again and I thought maybe she wanted my address.  I have it written out on the back of my alien registration card in Hangul, the Korean alphabet, so I read everything written out to her and she told me more words I did not recognize until I heard her say “kamsamnida,” or thank you.  When I heard that word I knew everything was good and my food would be here soon.

About 15 minutes later I got a knock on my door by a man wearing McDonald’s-branded helmet carrying my food.  I looked in the bag and everything was correct.  The only surprise was an unexpected extra drink.  I’m not entirely sure if I paid for it or if it was just a happy accident but I’m never one to turn down a Coke, especially when it is brought right to my front door.  Success, thy name is McDonald’s.

September Ended So I Guess I Can Wake Up Now

Ssangmun

Tomorrow is October, which means in a few short hours I will again be living in the future.  The onset of October also celebrates me living in Korea for four months.  In the past four months I’ve become incredibly comfortable going about my day-to-day activities, more comfortable than I ever thought I would be in this short period of time.  But while knowing that I can become accustomed to life on the other side of the world is pretty amazing in its own right, it also means that I’ve gotten stuck in a routine.  I know some people enjoy having their routines, knowing what they have to do everyday before they already do it, but I am not one of those people.  As of right now I am making it my new goal to do more spontaneous weekend trips out of Seoul and see more of the country.  Actually, this goal will probably be put into action after my next paycheck given the sad current state of my bank account.

The past month came and went pretty quickly.  Apart from my trip to Ulleungdo, September seemed to be spent mostly in the office.  A couple of my coworkers renewed their contracts with our school and they got to go back to America, one a couple of weeks ago and the other this week.  This means that the rest of us not returning to the motherland were pulling double duty to cover their classes in addition to our own.  Any break we had in the day was filled with another class.  Today was the last day we’re short-staffed so, thankfully, I will have my mid-day breaks back when I return to work next week.  I’m grateful the extra hours are over but at least one of those coworkers brought me back American toothpaste and deodorant so now I get to smell like an American again.

Outside work hasn’t been too terribly exciting lately.  The weekend after I got back from Ulleungdo I went to a bottomless wine bar at the InterContinental Hotel in COEX, the biggest underground shopping center in Asia.  The wine was decent and there was a ton of non-Korean food that was also blissfully unlimited.  The next week I did another Hash Run.  A few months ago I wrote about the Hash, a run I did around Seoul that goes for a few miles and ends at a bar.  Running isn’t exactly my cup of tea but this time it was a hike instead of a run so I decided to give Hashing another go.  The hike was by no means an intense climb but it was still fun to see another part of the mountains I hadn’t seen before, and, like my previous Hash experience, there was plenty of alcohol to go around at the end.

Hash Hike

This week has seen a sudden drop in the temperature that I’m still not prepared for.  When I leave for work in the morning and come back at night I now have to wear a jacket.  I haven’t really experienced winter since my senior year of college in Iowa and the current temperatures are already on par with Phoenix in January so it will be interesting to see how this whole fall-winter situation plays out.  I probably should have looked for teaching positions in Tahiti.

My Trip to Some Islands You Have Never Heard Of

Monday on my side of the world was Chuseok, a holiday in Korea that is sort of a combination of Thanksgiving and Labor Day.  It is a big fall harvest feast people go back to their hometowns for and it marks the end of summer.  Since my family is on another continent right now I decided to leave Seoul and go to Ulleungdo and Dokdo, two islands halfway between Korea and Japan.  Ulleungdo is an island famous for two things: pumpkins and squid.  It’s an odd combination but that’s just Korea for you.  Dokdo is a rock way out in the middle of the ocean that is important for political reasons to both Korea and Japan.

Ulleungdo

The first stop was Ulleungdo.  To get to Ulleungdo my group took an overnight bus to Donghae, a town on the east coast about five hours away from Seoul.  The bus got to Donghae a little bit before 5:00 AM and our boat to Ulleungdo left at 7:00.  While everyone else stayed on the bus catching some sleep before we got to the island I decided to go out and watch the sunrise over the beach.  Donghae is apparently famous for it’s beautiful sunrises but the overcast skies unfortunately meant that all I saw was a black sky gradually turning into a lighter shade of grey.

After a three-and-a-half-hour boat ride from Donghae, we arrived in Ulleungdo, about a hundred miles off the coast of the mainland.  When we got off the boat, we were welcomed by a rainstorm.  The entire time on the island would be interrupted by on-and-off rainstorms.  Because we were all already soaking wet we went right from the hotel to the water.  The coast in Ulleungdo is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s not very beach-y.  Cliffs go straight into the water and there are trails carved right into the cliffs.  To get from the trails to the water there are bridges scattered about to jump from.  Because the water is so clear and blue it would be easy to assume it would be like the tropical water found elsewhere in the Pacific but, sadly, it ended up being freezing.  Thankfully there were plenty of distractions from the beauty of the rock formations and water that kept my mind off how cold I was.

Cliffs in Ulleungdo

The next day was just as rainy but we had a tour around the island scheduled.  The tour took us along the coast and stopped at various rocks that supposedly look like animals, lookout towers, traditional houses, and spots along the coast.  By the time the tour was halfway over I was just as wet as I was when I jumped into the ocean because of all the rain.  When the tour was over I dried off and went hiking up Seonginbong Mountain, the highest point on the island.  The hike started off on a paved road that made the hills of San Francisco look like the plains of Kansas.  The steep slope wasn’t short either.  It lasted for about a kilometer.  When it finally turned into an unpaved path it leveled off for about twenty feet until the seemingly 90 degree angles started up again.  After another four kilometers of torture, we reached the top and were treated to a near-360 view of the island.  As neat as the view from Dobongsan was, with all of Seoul underneath it, the from from Seonginbong was definitely the better of the two.  You could see all the mountains plunge into the sea and many of the trees beginning to turn colors.

Seonginbong View

After a disappointingly short night’s sleep, I woke up early with one of the other people on the trip and went to Dokdo, an island about three hours east of Ulleungdo.  Dokdo is disputed territory with Korea and Japan both laying claim to it.  The island itself is tiny and not much more than a giant rock sticking out of the water but it’s located in rich fishing grounds so both seafood-loving countries see the water around the island as economically important.

The boat to Dokdo is in no way able to handle big waves, and with the heavy rainstorms going on there were lots of waves.  I’m not being remotely sarcastic when I say that about three quarters of the passengers were on the floor clutching their seasickness bags for dear life.  I saw more vomit on this boat ride than I ever care to see again.  People were lying on the floor looking like death was imminent and others were leaning over the side of the boat letting their projectile drift away wherever the wind and water took it.  About an hour into the boat ride I started feeling like an Italian immigrant coming to Ellis Island in the 1800s.  I was on a crowded, rocking boat filled with seasick passengers who were all looking out to sea, hopeful for any trace of land.  Luckily, I was not one of the miserable majority although I did start to feel pretty dizzy towards the end.

Seasick in Dokdo

As luck would have it, land eventually popped up on the horizon and we docked on Dokdo Island.  There really is nothing to do on Dokdo other than admire the scenery.  It’s too small and steep for anyone to live there.  The fact that there is even a ferry that takes people out to the island is really just a symbolic “Screw You” sent out to the Japanese who also think they own the island.  From what I was told, the vast majority of the trips do not dock on the island.  They merely sail around it.  I think the captain realized his boat full of seasick Koreans would have probably organized a mutiny and decided he needed to let them touch solid ground before heading back to Ulleungdo.

Since the island is so tiny the short time we had in port was long enough to see just about everything.  This pretty much consisted of tall rocks, clear water, green moss covering everything, and lots of birds.  I had never seen an island quite like this.  As I said before, this is really more of a big rock than an island so it was just a different experience being on land that remote.  Any other time I’ve seen an “island” of comparable size, it was located right off the shore of a bigger piece of land but this was out at sea with no other land in sight.  It was a very Gilligan-esque feeling.

Dokdo Rocks

The ride back to Ulleungdo was a bit easier as were traveling with the current this time, although I did still see my fair share of people who did not look like they were having the time of their lives.  After we landed in Ulleungdo we went back to the hotel to get our bags and got on another boat to go back to Donghae.  Four hours later we were back on the Korean mainland and in a bus headed for Seoul.  I got back to my apartment around midnight, passed out, and had probably the best sleep of my life.  When I woke up I had rotated 90 degrees in my sleep, my head and arms were hanging off one side of my bed and my legs were dangling off the other side.  All-in-all, it was a successful escape from the crowds of Seoul that had the prettiest geography I’ve seen in Korea; even if the sky was spouting rain as the people around me spouted their breakfasts into the sea.

Dokdo

The Hills are Alive With the Sound of Makgeolli

At the top of DobongsanToday I had my first Korean hiking experience.  I went to Dobongsan, which is the mountain I have a view of from my apartment, with two of my American co-teachers and one of the Korean teachers.  I went hiking pretty frequently in Arizona before coming to Korea but hiking in Seoul is completely different from what I became accustomed to back home.

The first, and probably biggest, difference between hiking in the US and Korea is the crowds.  In America I think most people like to go hiking to experience nature and get away from the city; at least I like to go.  On Dobongsan there were people all around me, even in the more remote parts of the trail.  At times the trail could feel more like a steeply inclining line in Disneyland than a mountain.  With the crowds came what can best be described as a flea market.  The lower reaches of the trail had vendors selling everything from hiking gear to cotton candy.  As a culture, Korean’s don’t always care about being in nature.  Instead the great outdoors takes a backseat to being comfortable in the outdoors.  While roughing it might be expected for hikes in the US, the millions of other people on the trail with me proved that that is not the case in Seoul.

Another major difference between hiking in Seoul versus Arizona is the humidity.  Seoul in general can feel like a steam bath during the summer and today was no exception.  Arizona might be hot, but at least the dry heat means your can find relief in the shade.  In Seoul it doesn’t matter if you are under a tree or the glowing sun.  It’s always hot.  The humidity thankfully let up the higher we climbed but the bottom half of the trail was like hiking over a boiling pot.

View from Dobongsan

My favorite part of hiking in Korea is definitely the makgoelli.  When hikers here reach the top of a mountain it is tradition to drink makgeolli, an extremely delicious rice wine.  My American co-teachers, Paul and Sean, and I were told by Lily, our Korean co-worker, to put a bottle in the freezer the night before and it would be nice and slushy when we got to the top.  We did as we were told and also brought along food for a picnic up on the top.  The whole group ended up staying on the summit hanging out with our makgeolli and looking out at the scenic view for quite a while.

The hike down was much easier.  After coming off the very top, we took a different route back and passed a Buddhist temple tucked into the mountains.  Though I’m not Buddhist I always take great pleasure in seeing the temples.  They’re usually ornately decorated and, at least the ones I’ve seen, blend in with the surrounding environment in a very organic way.  I also think that seeing them just reinforces the fact that I’m in Asia, especially when I’m living in a city as Westernized as Seoul.

Temple on the Trail

Soon after passing the temple we were back at the entrance to the park, and in true Seoul have-all-conveniences-you-could-ever-want-with-you-at-all-times fashion, the subway and bus terminal were placed right outside the gate.  At this point my legs aren’t killing me yet but come tomorrow morning I fully expect them to feel like they’re on fire.  But despite the massive crowds of people and unrelenting humidity, spending the day hoofing it up a mountain turned out to be a lot of fun.  I mean, just about any day with makgeolli is a good day.  Hiking a mountain just adds to it.

Taiwan: The Tropical Paradise Your Toys Come From

Grand Hotel

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last updated my blog and in that time a lot has happened both at work and outside the office.  I’ll start off with the boring work related information just to let everyone at home know that I have not fallen off the face of the earth.  At school we have started what are called “intensives.”  Intensives are just extra English classes students take in the summer.  Students in Korea go to many different schools throughout the day, each one specializing in a certain subject.  In July and August their main school goes on vacation and a lot of those students fill up the time they would be at their main school by taking extra classes at another school.  My day normally goes from about noon to 7:30 but with intensives my days now start at 9:00 AM.  This schedule lasts for a couple more weeks, and even though it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would, I’m still looking forward to having my mornings back.

After the first week of intensives, my school had a week of vacation so I went to Taiwan with some of my co-workers.  In all honesty I didn’t really know what to expect when I went to Taiwan.  It’s one of those places I knew existed, but I never really thought that much about it other than when I saw that “Made in Taiwan” stamp on clothes or toys.  When the plane touched down in Taipei and the group left the airport, the only thing we could see were grey, run-down buildings that blended in with the grey, rainy skies.  After about half an hour or so the clouds gave way and a change of scenery showed that Taipei is actually a very pretty city that looks much more stereotypically Asian than Seoul does.  Asian architecture was plentiful and food carts lined the streets.

After a very brief first encounter with Taipei the group went to the train station and boarded a train to Hualien.  Hualien is a city about two hours south of Taipei nestled between cloud-covered mountain peaks and a clear, wavy sea with plenty of palm trees and tropical plants in the middle.  The first night in Hualien was spent at the beach playing in the pounding waves as the sun set.  After a couple hours of night swimming we went to one of Hualien’s night markets.  Night markets are very popular in Taiwan and they sell all kinds of food at very cheap prices.  Taiwan has amazing food, even better than Korean food in my opinion.  There were so many different fruits, vegetables, and sauces, and they even use lots of tofu which is something I have been missing in Korea.  When we had sampled as much as our stomachs would allow, we went back to the hostel and got some much needed rest before Taroko Gorge the next day.

Hualien

Hualien is the gateway to Taroko Gorge, or the Grand Canyon of the Pacific as one brochure put it.  Taroko Gorge consists of mountains and cliffs all impressively cut away by a clear, turquoise river.  We spent our time at the gorge walking along the trails, playing in the water, and taking in the scenery.  Taroko Gorge is far and away one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen so just looking around at the geography was enough to keep me occupied.  That night after spending the entire day at the gorge we ate authentic Chinese food.  The owner of the hostel told me what she liked, which was a very spicy tofu and noodle dish.  It definitely was not Panda Express but I would probably go as far as to call it my favorite food from Asia thus far.

Taroko Gorge

The next day we hired a driver to take us a few hours further south to Kenting, a beach town on the southern tip of the island.  The drive between Hualien and Kenting followed the coast and the scenery was exactly what I imagine a desert island in the South Pacific looking like, with the soaring peaks falling straight into the ocean.  The group stayed in Kenting for a couple of days for some beach time.  The beach in Kenting was right by our hostel and it had golden sand and deep cerulean-colored water.  The vast majority of my time in Kenting was spent on the beach, soaking in the sun while Korea was being destroyed by massive rainstorms.  Seeing that big, blue sky was worth the price of getting out of Korea.

The second day at the beach was very wavy.  Apparently there was a typhoon in the Philippines and Indonesia which sent the waves north to Taiwan.  My co-worker Aliya and I decided to sign up for surfing lessons to take advantage of the situation.  Another co-worker of mine, Paul, is from San Diego and has been surfing forever so while he was further out on the bigger waves, Aliya and I were on surfing’s equivalent of the bunny slopes.  While I am most likely never going to be a pro-surfer, I did learn to keep my balance, paddle with the waves, and ride to shore without falling off.  In my book that is a major accomplishment.

Kenting

After the second day in Kenting we took the high-speed train back up to Taipei where we did all the sightseeing we could fit in.  Taipei is much smaller than Seoul so it was pretty easy to get around the city in short periods of time.  As I said before, Taipei looks much more along the lines what I imagined Asia being like than Seoul does.  The red roofs, temples, and Chinese-style architecture were universal in the city.  During my time in Taipei I was able to see the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial (which was probably my favorite thing in Taipei), the Grand Hotel, Longshan Temple, the 101 Tower (the second tallest building in the world), and another night market.  Overall I loved Taipei and visiting the city made me regret not looking more into teaching in Taiwan as opposed to Korea, even though I still do really love Korea.  Most of the time.

Taipei

Korean Commutes are Wet and Fishy

After living in Arizona, the land of car culture, going about my daily routine without four wheels underneath me at all times was the part of Korean culture that took the most time to get used to.  But now that I’ve been in Seoul for nearly two months and have not driven a car since May, going back to highways, traffic, and paying for gas seems almost impossible.  On a typical morning’s walk I get coffee, listen to my iPod, and smell the disgustingly fragrant fish that hang from shop windows.  Other than the constant fishy scent, walking to work is much nicer, despite Korea’s best attempts at getting me to take a cab.

My walk is about 15 minutes.  On warm, sunny days those 15 minutes are great but in Korea you only get to see the sun about .05% of the time.  The other 99.95% of the time is spent underneath an umbrella attempting to avoid a monsoon.  There have been many days in which I’ve arrived at work looking and feeling as if I stood around, fully dressed, in the shower.  In the end, though, clothes dry and even with the rain I much prefer commuting by foot instead of sitting behind a wheel.

Today was one of those precious few sunny days so I decided to take my camera out and show everyone at home what my neighborhood looks like.  The pictures below are all from the route I take between my apartment and work.

Leaving my apartment

This first picture was taken immediately outside my apartment.  The shorter white building on the right has a few shops like a hair cut place, a few restaurants, and a convenience store as well as a grocery store in the basement.  After I pass the white building, I turn right and…

Walking down my street

…see this.  The second photo is of my street.  This area is the residential section of my neighborhood.  There are lots of high-rises and walking paths so it’s a quieter area.  My walk looks like this for a couple of minutes and…

Market

…the street becomes a market.  There are always vendors out selling clothes, food, and random knick knacks.  After walking through the market, the stands give way and…

Stores

…there are shops and restaurants.  There are a bunch of Korean restaurants, a Burger King, Baskin-Robins, and about 7,000 cell phone stores.  Once I get to the shop on the left with the white sign, I turn left and…

Alley

…walk down an alley to this street.  At the end of the alley, I turn left and…

Narrow streets

…walk down this narrow, crowded street.  There are lots of shops here and the cars seem to disregard any traffic laws that would be in existence in the US.  I keep walking down this street for a few minutes and…

Street

…the shops turn into smaller apartments.  There are a few schools and convenience stores but this is the quieter end of the street.  Once I get past the brown brick buildings on the right, I turn right and…

Work

…I walk between some apartment buildings, cross the street, and get to my work, ECC School.  ECC is located on the fourth floor of the gray building in the middle of the picture.  My building also has a bank, another school, a couple of coffee shops, and a clothing store.

And just for all you people who are bigger fans of the end of the day rather than the beginning, this is what my walk home looks like.

Walk home

Korean Musings

Korea

I have been living in Korea for about a month and a half and in that time I’ve become quite accustomed to life on the other side of the world.  I’ll admit that there were certain creature comforts I used to take for granted until I got to Seoul, but when looking at the whole picture, giving up most of the material things I miss has been a small price to pay for this experience.  To celebrate getting through the beginning and settling in, I thought it would be appropriate to record my random thoughts that haven’t really had a place in past entries on this blog.

  • The Korean alphabet is ridiculously easy to learn.  I printed off a copy of the alphabet from the Internet and studied it during my training.  After three days I was able to read just about anything.  I still have absolutely know idea what the majority of the words I’m reading mean but every once in a while I’ll see an English word written out in the Korean alphabet.
  • Getting around Seoul without knowing Korean is much easier that I expected.  After more than a month here, I can still count on one hand the number of words I know in Korean.  This hasn’t stopped me from doing anything yet as most Koreans seem to know at least very basic English.  If they don’t know any English, I’ve found smiles and hand gestures have gone a long way.
  • Korean students are light years ahead of their American counterparts.  Many of my students are about five years old and understand words and concepts that I could not imagine being mastered until second or third grade.  It should also be noted that the way age is figured in Korea is different than in America and the students who we call five are considered seven in Korea, making their accomplishments that much more impressive.
  •  It is very easy to get lost in Seoul.  Everywhere in this city tends to look the same as everywhere else.  The streets are all narrow, neon-lined alleyways and most are unnamed.  As easy as it is to get lost, it is also easy to get un-lost.  Because the subway and bus stations are everywhere, if you get completely turned around you can hop on a train until you find a familiar stop.  If all else fails, taxis are cheap and easy to hail.
  • Cell phones are insanely nice here.  My phone from home was an LG Optimus, and while it wasn’t an iPhone or anything super nice, it was a pretty cool smart phone.  My Korean phone is the same model I had from home.  The major difference between my Korean and American phones is that my nice American phone was the crappy free phone they give away when you sign a contract in Korea.  Phones in Seoul seem to be as much of a status symbol as a Mercedes might be in America.
  • Humidity in Korea is not something to take lightly.  Having grown up in the Midwest, I know what humidity means but Seoul is in a league of its own.  Florida in the summer can’t compare to Korea.  The heat here isn’t terrible, but the humidity just makes walking long distances miserable.  From the second I walk out of the shower I can guarantee I will not feel dry for the rest of the day.
  • I still haven’t gotten tired of Korean food yet.  It’s spicy and delicious.  What’s not to love?
  • Doing laundry is an ordeal in my apartment.  Seoul is this amazingly high tech place but dryers are still scarce and with the unrelenting humidity my clothes never really dry off.  Gone are the days of living out of the dryer.  Hanging clothes out to dry at least 24 hours before they are wearable is the new thing.
  • Though it may sound sad or pathetic, as much as I miss my family and friends from home, I miss my cat just as much.  I’ve been told Clementine is enjoying her temporary stay with my parents but it would be nice to have her chewing on things and meowing at four in the morning in Korea.  And just for your viewing pleasure…

Clementine

Monsoon Madness

Monsoon

South Korea quite possibly has the worst summer of anywhere on the planet.  As I am writing this, I am in the midst of monsoon season, also known as the months where it doesn’t stop raining.  The best way to describe my feelings towards monsoons is that I now have a better understanding as to why Seattle has the highest suicide rate in the US.

Before I experienced my first monsoon, I was under the impression that they were pretty much the same thing as hurricanes.  They are not, in fact, as bad as Hurricane Katrina and Seoul is in no way the next New Orleans but they still suck.  There’s no beating around the bush trying to downplay them.  A monsoon is just constant, depressing, heavy rain and from what I’ve been told it lasts for months.  I’m a week and a half into this thing and I’m already about to shoot the first person who crosses my path after walking inside from the rain.

The worst part about a monsoon isn’t the rain or the length, though.  The thing I hate most is how they keep you trapped inside.  My favorite pastime and the most effective cure for a soju hangover I have found has been to aimlessly wander around new parts of the city.  Up until the past couple of weeks I would wake up on Saturday and Sunday mornings and just head to a neighborhood I hadn’t been to before and explore until my legs couldn’t walk anymore.  Since the monsoon started I have spent more time in my apartment than I care for.  At first it wasn’t too terrible for some forced down time, and if I had to be completely honest, it was actually somewhat appreciated.  After the first lazy weekend, that relaxation turned into cabin fever.  I’m constantly itching to go out and walk around outside as opposed to being stuck indoors.

So until the monsoon drifts out to to sea, I’m just going to be that crabby person who was living in Phoenix, Arizona, the Valley of the Sun, a little over a month ago and now cannot leave the apartment without an umbrella.

Monsoon