St. Patrick’s Day is really focused on all things Ireland, so what is there to do on March 17 in Seoul (essentially the complete opposite of Ireland)? The answer is simply to celebrate anyway.
I went to the Irish Fest in Sindorim, which was every bit as green as an Irish Fest back home might be. People were dancing, a Korean U2 cover band played, and there was even Irish bread available for a 2,000 won donation to help build a memorial for the Irish victims of the Korean War (because apparently they exist… well, existed). Though the crowd was primarily foreigners there was still a significant amount of Koreans out celebrating a holiday I never thought would have made it to this part of the world. After the Irish Fest, we all went to Itaewon, the major foreigner section of Seoul. A lot of the bars seemed to be having specials of some sort so we spent the majority night barhopping. I ended up going to one bar that was supposed to have Irish bands playing all night who ended up being a lot of the same performers I saw earlier at the Irish Fest but, after a few pints of Guinness, I wasn’t really bothered that much.
So even though my St. Patrick’s Day was more kimchi-oriented than would have ever thought possible, the day ended up being a lot of fun. But just to give everyone out there reading this an idea of what exactly a Korean St. Patrick’s Day is like, I present to you the Korean U2 cover band:
Halloween isn’t the biggest holiday in Korea. It really isn’t even a holiday at all in fact. This means that I spent October without seeing pumpkins, costumes, or the witch-themed decorations that litter American stores for the entire month. Because the school I work at is an English academy, there is at least some effort to introduce the kids to certain parts of Western culture and Halloween was one of those things the students got to see.
We had a Halloween party at my school and the students got to dress up. Some of the costumes were interesting, to say the least. I had many male witches, a bride, an elaborately costumed Spiderman, and a belly dancer with an outfit far too revealing for a ten-year-old. One boy who came as a vampire even brought a bottle of “blood” to put on people when he bit them. I came dressed as Harry Potter, a costume that consisted of a vampire cape, nerdy glasses, a magic wand, and a Gryffindor badge and lightening scar to complete the look. The entire getup cost about $10 and took about two minutes to put together. It ended up okay, everyone knew what I was but I don’t think I will be winning any costume contests this year.
To get the kids excited at the Halloween parties I played them The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, and the Thriller video, all of which they loved, and I had them create ghost stories. They did not quite understand the concept of making ghost stories scary, so those turned out to be completely unrelated to Halloween but they had fun nonetheless. During each class we also went trick-or-treating to the other classrooms where the students got candy. They were instructed to sing “Trick-or-Treat, Smell my feet, Give me something good to eat!” by their Korean teachers rather than to just say “Trick-or-Treat!” making this process take a lot longer than it should have, but the students were happy and it got me out of doing an actual lesson so I can’t complain.
Outside my school the Halloween atmosphere was nowhere to be found in the entire city of Seoul. I wanted to celebrate the holiday anyway so I went on a Halloween boat cruise out around the coast in Incheon. This boat was filled with other foreigners who also wanted more Halloween in their lives. The boat itself was a almost like a gutted out ferryboat that was refilled with a nightclub. It sailed around for a few hours while the sun set and then all the passengers were loaded on buses headed to Hongdae for a night of more festivities after they were done drinking at sea. While it wasn’t quite the same thing as seeing trick-or-treaters wandering the streets back home it was oddly comforting celebrating a very big part of American culture.
While everyone in America is busy on the Fourth of July blowing things up and having picnics, I will be celebrating the Fourth in a very Korean way: working. Not surprisingly, the Korean government does not particularly care that July 4 is when the US became an independent nation and, as a result of that ignorance, the people still go to work. Maybe after work I’ll celebrate the birth of my country by getting McDonald’s or something equally American but I seriously doubt I’ll be seeing any fireworks tonight.
On Friday I did do something I had never done before, though, by celebrating Canada Day. On July 1, I got my “eh!” on and went to a Canadian bar with a coworker of mine from Vancouver. I was classy and celebrated in a Canada t-shirt I got when I went to Toronto for spring break senior year. For the most part, I spent the night lying to people, telling them I was from Prince Edward Island, so I could be cool and Canadian as well. When we got Canadian-ed out, my group went to another bar that was full of 6-foot-something Russians. I’m not quite sure why so many of them were in one place but once they got together I had never felt so short in my entire life.
But whether I’m celebrating Canada Day or the Fourth of July, one thing is certain. I am going to work very soon whether I like it or not.
Friday night was the start of my first real Korean weekend. While I have technically been through three Saturdays and Sundays since my plane landed, this is the first weekend that followed a full week of work and therefore was the most appreciated.
After a relatively low key Friday night I woke up on Saturday morning and did something I have not done in years and years: I ran. Now before any jaws drop to the floor let me explain why I was running. A co-worker of mine organizes a group that does two-mile runs in various locations throughout Seoul so a few of us decided to join her and see a little more of the city. The reason I ended up tagging along was because I was informed the endpoint to every run this group does is a bar and drinks are provided. Now you’re probably starting to understand why I ran.
The first part of the route was fine, it was in a neat neighborhood I had not seen so I was happy I got my tourist fix. I was keeping pace and everything was fairly flat with some nice stop lights that provided much needed breaks without making me look like a wimp. After that misleading introduction to the course, we ending up cutting through someone’s backyard and ran up on a trail through the hills. The wrong turns, hills that felt like they never sloped down, and humidity that kept making the air thicker and thicker finally stopped and pitchers of mixed drinks greeted me as my co-workers and I got to the bar. Even though I have no intentions of ever running a marathon, or really even running without the prospect of ending up in a bar for that matter, I ended up having a lot of fun and saw a brand new part of the city. The picture below is from a stretch at the bottom of the hill where we crossed through a random meadow in the middle of Seoul I probably would have never noticed had I not gone with the group. I might even do this again next weekend. Maybe.
After getting back from the run and taking a quick and much deserved nap, I took some of my co-workers who also did the run to Hongdae to meet up with Chelsea, a friend of mine from college. Hongdae is an area that is filled with bars and clubs and is one of Seoul’s major neighborhoods for nightlife. I’m not really into clubs and all the sexually transmitted diseases that seem to cover their walls so what I like about Hongdae is the area outside the clubs. In the middle of endless walls of neon signs are little parks that people crowd around and watch performers. Vendors sell drinks from carts and convenience stores are on every corner selling cheaper drinks and the always welcome snack. Foreigners and Koreans seem to be somewhat equal in number so there are just too many different types of people for the parks to get boring.
The picture above is what a weekend night in the parks of Hongdae is like. Pretty laid back and easy to get away from the scene kids who live and die for the clubs.
This morning I woke up impossibly sore from my long day of running and my long night of drinking so I decided to take Sunday easy and do another touristy thing to scratch off my list. I left for Namdaemun Market this afternoon and lazily wandered around the narrow alleys of food carts, souvenir stalls, and counterfeit designer goods. I’d heard a lot of really good things about Namdaemun Market from a lot of people but I’ve got to say I was a little let down. I didn’t really see that much of a difference between Namdaemun and the trashy shops selling t-shirts in the beach towns of Florida. There was a lot of stuff, so the sheer size was impressive but there’s only so many times you can see knockoff Adidas socks before losing interest.