Vast Visions

a year abroad in south korea


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Food and Dranks – Endless Sides

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So yeah guys, it’s a Sunday mornin’, rain is fallin’, and I am in an absolute daze. The past two days have been a marathon. From 6am on Friday morning to 4am today I had three hours of sleep. Whaaaaaat. And let me tell you, it was the most absurd 48 hours of my life yet.

Let’s rewind a bit to see what went down: I got a text from one of my good friends from EPIK on an unassuming Friday night. I had finished teaching classes for the day, and she invited me to a late dinner with a Korean “Wine Club.” I looked from the text on my phone to my pajamas…looked back at the text and told myself “what the hell, let’s do the damn thing tonight.”

After a flurry of clothe-changing and a powerwalk to the Homeplus station, I caught one of the last subway trains heading into Banwoldang. If you haven’t figured it out already, Banwoldang is pretty much the lynchpin of nightlife here. From Banwoldang, I caught a cab to a place between there and Beomeo. I handed off my phone to the taxi driver and someone from the wine club directed him. When I arrived, I met up with my friend and the wine club, a table of about 20 Koreans ranging from late 20’s to…late 40’s I’m guessing. Yep. A few ahjusshis in the mix, and I was the token foreigner amongst them.

We had some delicious, amazing blueberry makgeolli, and the pours didn’t stop. Apparently the group had already been drinking wine before that at a different location, and this was their second round. I graciously accepted the 술 and ate some kimchi pancakes with the welcoming group. Many of them were apprehensive about using their English but a few bowls of makgeolli in, everyone wanted to try some out on me. Especially the ahjusshis. After asking me where I was from, one of them (the one belting it out on the far right of the picture) told me “you are my style – Indian, my style” and asked to take a picture with me. This picture he then sent to his friends, apparently…

Overall there was a good balance of men and women in the group. At one point, one of the women encouraged me to pour one of the men a drink and call him “oppa.” Not missing a moment to impress, I one up’d that and said “오빠 많이 마셔~~” (oppa, please drink a lot~~) to which everyone lost their shit.

Well I’m not sure what time it was at this point but I know that since I had been there the group had gone through about 7 pitchers of blueberry makgeolli. The place we were at closed, and we moved on to Round 3 – 노래방 (Karaoke). Since orientation I hadn’t been to another noraebang, but it’s a lot of fun for me. I know a lot of k-pop songs so it ends up being fun for everyone to sing along. We headed over to a place called 토마토노래방 and for you all that can read hangeul THAT’S RIGHT: the place was called “Tomato Noraebang” LOL. Now here’s where things started getting weird…

You would think that after a round of wine, soju and makgeolli that Korean people would stop drinking. You would be wrong. At the noraebang someone ordered 10 bottles of beer and a few bottles of…something that was hard liquor but not soju. Some people were passed out for the duration of the noraebang session, some dudes were snoring, ahjusshis were serenading me with trot songs, and then this one dude started telling me sweet nothings in Korean…??!! I looked to my friend, not really knowing what to do…she couldn’t translate what he was saying either because he was slurring LOL…. He had k-pop orange hair, fake gold chain, strangely acid-washed-bleached jeans, and the overwhelming smell of alcohol. I politely repeated to him in Korean that I really didn’t know what he was saying, but there was no deterring the woo-ing as he picked up the mic to sing melancholy-sounding ballads. -__-‘

At another point, maybe at 3am ish, my friend and I catch the ahjusshi who took a picture with me quietly sitting there with his phone. Then we catch a glimpse of the phone. HE WAS LOOKING AT THE PICTURE…….LITERALLY JUST SITTING THERE STARING AT THE PICTURE OF ME AND HIM……….. o___o! Slightly skeeved out at this point, but mostly super tired, my friend and I put in one last song (Everybody by Backstreet Boys, of course), declared it 마지막 (the last one) and thus our noraebang-ing came to an end. We woke up the dudes who were passed out and we parted ways in the wee hours of the morning.

Since my friend came from far away, both of us went to my apartment and got a whopping 3 hours of sleep before the daylight crowbar-ed our eyelids open. We went to a noodle place near my apartment for brunch and it was heavenly – two big bowls of jjajjangmyeon (black bean noodles) and an order of sweet and sour pork ;___; <3 We were practically falling into a coma at the restaurant though, so we stocked up on some vitamin water and headed off to the museum we had planned to visit.

Took a micro nap on the subway ride to the museum and successfully got there without getting lost (hooray!). We wanted to see the Yayoi Kusama exhibit, which you can read about here. The museum and the exhibit was beautiful, playful, awesome, and well worth the pilgrimage. Can’t wait to see what the next show is going to be~

After the museum we stopped by the Lotte Department store, which is ten floors of glistening, shiny awesomeness. Luxury brands like Gucci, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, etc. packed every sparkling floor. At the eatery section we had some absolutely killer pho (fuhhhh) and kebabs?? Kebabs are a thing in Korea. They’re everywhere, with middle aged Korean ladies making them. I had a wrap at one of the kebab stands and it was delishasss. The ingredients were so fresh. I am really, really going to miss the food here.

So I parted ways with my friend here because she had to catch a train at this stop. I rode the subway back to Banwoldang, where I was supposed to transfer to the green line and get my butt home, when fate intervened and…I ended up catching dinner downtown with some friends.

At dinner, we had some samyopsal (**pork belly) and wrapped the meat in sesame leaves. Man, too much good food. Then someone ordered some bamboo soju and of course I had to try it. Mah gawd, that stuff was heavenly. So some shots of soju and glasses of beer later, I’m wandering around Banwoldang again with some more people I know headed to a bottle bar. This place lets you pick out as many beers as you want, and at the end you just give them your bottles and pay. So easy! I said I wasn’t going to drink anymore but I had a sip of a beer called Mariachi, an agave/lemon flavored beer, and I had to have one. (Guys, am I sounding like an alcoholic yet??)

Well, after hi-fiving/gang-signing someone else I knew who came to the bottle bar and finishing our respective beers, off we went again to a pretty low-key bar that played some classic tunes on vinyls. Good conversation over some more beers that were conveniently situated in an inset bucket of ice on the table. Afterwards I think we visited the club for a bit, cheered on one of my EPIK bros that was DJing, and dipped out towards MF Bar. What does MF stand for, even? (**”My Favorite” LOL) Anyway, it’s where everyone and their mother has their birthdays and it was PACKED. Apparently there were multiple birthdays that day and it was swarming with people who were well past tipsy. There were some pretty obnoxiously drunk, clumsy girls there, doing some ungodly things with some random Koreans. Yep, scum of the earth was festering at MF on that particular occasion. Not my favorite part of the night, but I did get to see more people I knew, met some cool new peeps, and…had some more beer.

Last place of the night/morning was Thursday Party, where outside a Scottish dude that I met at MF tried to start a fight with me. Getting all up in my grill. After he strangely started wrestle-hugging me and insulting/complimenting me (I have no idea what he was doing) I thought he calmed down. I was conversing with a few people when all of a sudden he comes back and starts forcibly poking my face. MY FACE. Assault poke. I didn’t really know how to react, What exactly does one do when someone starts poking you hard in the face?? WTF? I tried evading/backing away but this guy was persistent… Eventually after enough people tried to intervene he stopped. -__-;

After that strange, strange episode I took a cab home and arrived at my apartment at 4am today. Slept in, woke up and ate some ramen. Rested, recovered, and still asking myself what the hell happened for the past two days. Korea, that was a whole lotta weird in a short amount of time. Here’s to surviving it. Cheers, 건배~~~

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Art Update: Yayoi Kusama @ Daegu Art Museum

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Hey peeps, here’s a little post about the museum I went to recently~ I was able to take lots of pictures this time because it was photo friendly for the most part.^^

About a 30 minute subway ride away from where I live in Daegu, the Daegu Art Museum is pretty easy to get to (even for me). At one of the exits is a shuttle that takes you to the front of the museum so no need to figure out buses and stops to get there. The museum itself is absolutely gorgeous. Situated at the cusp of the city and the beautiful rolling green hills of Korea, the museum spaces are expansive and bright with natural light. Glass, steel, and clean-looking marble made the museum like walking through an elegant glass box. There is an adjoining wedding hall where a wedding was underway, so museum patrons and well-dressed wedding goers were strangely occupying some of the outdoor spaces together.

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The Kusama exhibit itself, titled “A Dream I Dreamed,” had a wide ranging appeal because of it’s playful nature and immersive environments. Some spaces took up entire halls, and some spaces were concealed around a darkened corner, only visible to those who venture close enough to see it. Unlike the Seoul Art Museum, there was generous amount of space dedicated to the on-display work, so one could view artwork at his or her own pace. The pieces ranged from installation to sculpture to painting to video/performance, which made the exhibit a new experience in every room. There was a lot of play with illusionistic spaces, mirrors and features of the face. One space that you could look into forces you to confront your own reflection while viewing the work.

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One room, titled “The Obliteration Room,” allows viewers to place stickers anywhere in the livingroom-like setting. We had to take off our shoes to get in, and despite the poopy diaper smell from all the toddlers running around, it was a really dynamic space. It changes as you are present, with people carefully deciding where to place their stickers. Those kids though…so many kids…*shudder*

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This space was really cool – you enter with a few other people and stand on a platform surrounded by a shallow amount of water. The mirrored door is closed behind the group, and the small room transforms into infinite space. Suspended lights change colors and ever so subtly move amongst the chatter of awed viewers. Kinda magical. (There’s me with the white pants LOL,)

In all, I really enjoyed Kusama’s exhibition because of the attention she paid to each and every space. It was well considered, with a minimal amount of work but carefully selected pieces and installations. The beauty of the museum’s immense space is not lost, but instead complimented by the pieces that lure you through the rooms and halls. A huge problem I often encounter in museums is when the artist/curators try to cram too many pieces into too small of a space, and THEN cramming in tons of people. A museum I visited in NYC before I came here had an exhibit that would emit a piercingly shrill beep every time a patron got too close to a piece, and given the space it was impossible to walk freely AND stay within a 3 ft. radius of all the pieces.

One thing I missed was a gift shop! Go figure! We awkwardly walked around the wedding area, the ground floor…nothing! On my way out I grabbed another pamphlet out of sheer disappointment.

Well, this has been your Korean Art Update! I hope to spend a lot more time viewing art and taking pictures so expect a few more of these as the journey goes on~


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Seoul Search: Part I

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So I’m back in Daegu after a lengthy Chuseok (Thanksgiving) break. I had a few days off of school so I decided to pay a visit to Seoul, the city destination that everyone knows in Korea.

Seoul is the capital city of Korea, heavily populated with foreigners and English/Engrish signs. Restaurants, shops, theaters, etc. are stacked on top of each other, and what’s there one day is gone the next. The sparkling newness of the storefronts stay for a while and then disappear just as the paint dries. Such is the pace of life here – “Dynamic Korea” as they call it. Directions based on landmarks are most often hit or miss because of the rapid pace of change here, so finding the hostel I was staying at in Hongdae was a little bit of a challenge. Luckily the subways are easy to get a handle on, and although you have to transfer a lot of times, you can get to a very specific location without really having to hike anywhere.

Travelling with someone who had already been to Seoul already was a real stroke of luck, because I got to check out all the cool niche places that have the best craft beer in Korea. From Watermelon Wheat to a honey IPA, sitting outside in a super casual setting and having a few cold ones in the middle of the bustling day was my kind of tourism.

One of my favorite activities in Seoul was going to see the Studio Ghibli and Alphonse Mucha exhibits at the Seoul Arts Center. The art scene is really packing a punch here, as the museum spaces are expansive, gorgeously designed buildings that let in a lot of light and allow many visitors in. One thing that bothered me was the sheer volume of people there – it was amazing to see a culture so in-tune with the progress of art, but this made looking at the art grating on the nerves to say the least. There is a line that snakes through the entirety of the exhibit and people slowly shuffle along the walls viewing work. There is no open art viewing here – everyone snakes around the gallery as a homogeneous unit and view art at a set pace (which is agonizingly slow). Very different from art viewing in New York, which allows for a lot more free movement around the gallery spaces. I found myself deviating from the line and skipping around a bit to avoid spending over 3 hours on one exhibit. On view were several beautiful prints, paintings and lithographs by Alphonse Mucha, one of my favorite artists representing the Art Noveau movement. The pieces were on a larger scale than I had ever imagined; almost life-sized figures adorned with flowers and arabesque-ing locks of hair. There was also a good deal of photography in the gallery that gave a sense of historical context to the work, and the pieces were grouped according to specific phases and themes in Mucha’s career. While I was there I also spent a good amount of time viewing the animation slides of the Studio Ghibli films. It was amazing to see the actual sketches and plans from movies like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. Some more interesting panels were the ones that outlined a sequence of panning, where several sheets of paper were simply taped together and the idea of the scene was hashed out. I’m glad that I got to see the exhibits before they were taken down, and I hope to go back to Seoul again soon to see what new art it has to offer.

Seoul, especially Hongdae and Itaewon, had some really great eats too. I had burritos at a place called Vatos, a Korean-Mexican fusion restaurant where we had to be put on a waiting list for two hours (!). Popular amongst expats and Koreans alike, that queso and burrito were heaven sent. The watermelon wheat beer I had was a little too sweet for my liking but I’m glad I tried it nonetheless. Other good eats were a pork spine stew, cooked on a mini stove in front of you, full of veggies and fall off the bone meaty goodness. It was super hot temperature-wise but very filling. For breakfast one day we dipped into a fried rice restaurant and some mozzarella cheese, bacon, and sweet and sour sauce later I contentedly rolled out of there with a food baby and enough energy to carry me through the rest of the day.

The shopping area of Myeongdong is beautiful, modern, and energetic. The clean lines of the Uniqlo and the hipness of H&M pave the way through main roads teeming with fashionable young Koreans, clack-clacking away with their high heels and armfuls of shopping bags. When the lights go on, the neon glow drowns out the night sky and you’re left with a thrilling electric daylight to continue shopping with until you bust a heel.  If I wasn’t so low on money waiting on my first paycheck I would have definitely bought something, but alas, window shopping was all I was fated to do this time around. Myeongdong, I’m coming back for you~~

And lastly, the nightlife was awesome. I wish I wasn’t so tired, but I got to experience the sounds of a pretty rad two man band at an indie-rock inspired bar called FF. I got an autograph and everything when the show was over. Free drinks and a chill atmosphere were aplenty.  We wanted to go clubbing, as several weird/cool venues were around (“Gorilla”??) but by 2am we were way too tired to go on. Definitely need to visit again and scope out some good clubs next time.

The picture above, I believe, captures the vibe of Seoul. The new, slowly encircling the old, until one day (maybe soon) that wave will crash and wipe the old away. If there was a “way of life” for Seoul it would be this: the quest for modernity isn’t for the sake of improvement alone – it’s obsessive. That, and you better watch where you cross the street because the threat of being run over is very real.


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Kindness in Korea

Hi all, I hope things are going well. I wanted to write a post today about how completely floored I am that a people as kind as Koreans exist.

You remember that post I wrote about that constant scowl I carry to ward off strangers? Well, that seemed to have vanished on its own. From greeting all of the teachers every morning to saying “hi!” to every student that enthusiastically calls my name in the hallways, the amount of time I now spend smiling has already outweighed the whole amount I did last year. Seriously.

You remember my ahjumma story, right? Well the kindness hasn’t stopped there, and it’s still only been a few weeks. Today I came back from the bank, where an extremely helpful bank teller has been helping me with the difficulties of banking as a foreigner. He doesn’t speak English too well, I don’t speak Korean too well, but somehow we’ve met in between.  I had a problem withdrawing money today so talking in broken Korean, miming at times, he patiently listened, furrowed his brows, sometimes laughed, and eventually figured out what I needed. At banks here, they give you water or coffee as you wait, and he got up abruptly to get me some when I told him I didn’t have lunch yet. We talked a little about chuseok plans and at the end of the trip he said to come back again soon, to which I replied 당연하죠! (of course! ^^)

One day my class had a field trip to the downtown area of Daegu where we painted book shelf/stand things. It was a little too big to fit in a backpack so I carried mine home in my arms. On the subway, I chose to stand because all the seats were full, and suddenly an old woman snatched it out of my hand! WHAT? But then I remembered that sometimes this happens – a seated stranger will sometimes offer to carry your things if you end up standing on the subway. Nice, huh? I bowed and thanked her, when behind me an elderly man asked me, “where are you from?” I replied in Korean and had a short conversation. When a seat opened up, I offered it to another elderly person standing up, and the good feels practically filled the entire subway car. I made sure to thank the old woman who helped me carry the book stand and she smiled for daysss. And as I got off on my stop, I got a “very beautipul” from the elderly man  ;__: <3

I’ve also ventured to have small conversations with local shopkeepers, who are always super impressed by my rudimentary Korean XD I will say that people here really appreciate when you try to communicate with them, if even in English. And it isn’t just confined to words, even a smile or a bow can communicate so much. I will say that my time here so far hasn’t been easy, and sometimes the staring eyes of people on the sidewalk get me, but thinking about successful cultural exchanges like these have helped me a lot. In all, I am grateful that I’ve been welcomed here by such kind people to teach, and I want to try my best for them, even if it means giving up a seat or smiling through a rough day. So far it’s yielded amazing results.


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Food and Dranks – The Appetizer Round

Hey everyone, went out successfully last Friday, and effectively lost my voice! T__T Stayed in recouping from it to teach on Monday, and I did a decent job of it by drinking honey citron tea.

Friday night was a long night, and I’m sure if you stay in Daegu you’ll develop a feel for all the hotspots. I will occasionally write about the food and dranks (alcoholic things) here, but for now let’s start with my first trip out: “the appetizers.”

The first place I went to in the downtown area (Banwoldang) was a seafood place. The waiters(?) grilled fresh seafood in front of you, wearing a strange army gettup and hustling about. Honestly I was apprehensive of going in because of the crowd (all middle aged men) but really, the food was so good. The had clams on the half shell with some mozzarella cheese on it, delicately seasoned things, baby clams in foil, shrimps, and for dessert they had a roasted sweet potato mixed with more mozzarella cheese. Wow. So good. Not sure what the deal is with cheese, but it was placed perfectly so I’m not complaining. While enjoying the fare I had a few glasses of beer and some soju.

Before the group went to the next location, we dipped into a 7-Eleven to get a curious little glass bottle of what tasted like apple juice. At about $6-7, this is what’s called a “conditioning shot” that eliminates hangovers the next day. I have to say, the next morning I felt amazing. AMAZING. Worth the investment. I will sorely miss these little bottles of wonder when I go back to the States.

When you walk downtown on a busy night you will often bump into people you know, as was the case with me. Bumped into a few people we knew at a place called Bombay, where they have a nice lounge-y atmosphere and a pool table. Really liked this spot, kinda low-key and relaxed. I had a few gin and tonics with a cucumber garnish, which is always recommended by the bartenders. Apparently limes do not exist in Korea. The owner is a cool dude who offered us free shots on our way out.

Still going hard, we trekked over to a place called GoGo’s that offered mixed drinks in Capri-sun-like plastic bags. The drink that I had, El Diablo, is something like red wine, red bull and…other things, Who knows. It was pretty good though – gotta be careful with those next time. The venue is pretty cool; a little window facing the street where you order your drink and chat with people also on the avenue. Other than the cars trying to squeeze by as you’re conversing, super casual and kinda quirky with everyone holding/sipping on colorful, weird drink bags.

Last place I hit was Who’s Bob, which was a place that I was kinda anxious to see. Nothing too flashy; foosball table, beer pong, and apparently high(er) stakes pool. There were a few Korean dudes in here who had some flak. Went in the dude’s bathroom instead of the women’s one but who’s counting right? Definitely not Bob.

All in all, it was a good first trip downtown. Still phone-less and internet-less at my apartment, but I didn’t let it deter me from having a good night out. Cheers to more exciting nights in Daegu~


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Tuned Out

Ahh, middle school. Such an awkward phase, where we come up with gimmicks to make ourselves cool. We are at the stage of forming an identity – one that will carry us though the travails of puberty. Some are drawn to the “class clown” identity. For me, I remember having a single strand of hair on one side of my face because I thought it was hella cool. I also said “ya’ll” a lot. Anyway…after my first day of teaching middle schoolers I am keenly reminded of the phase, but this time I’m on the other side of the podium.

So I actually surprised myself when I taught today. I tend to get anxious delivering presentations to my peers but I was really at ease in the classroom. I projected well, didn’t stumble over words, planned well, and generally enjoyed my time teaching today. That being said, the first class of the day that I taught was pretty rough.

The first class was small, which made me relieved. However, it worked against me. It was a class of about 10 boys and only 3 girls. The girls were distant and didn’t engage in the class. Two boys were really outspoken, but in the “class clown” kind of way. Three of the boys were in the back of the room being big shots and throwing around each others’ pencilcases. The other five were talking in Korean about LoL. Meanwhile, I’m delivering an easy lesson about expressing opinions by introducing myself via “two truths and a lie”. Once in a while I caught their interest but they were all basically “tuned out.”

Truthfully, I would be too. When you don’t understand 80% of what the instructor is saying, it gets tiring. That being said, I used the simplest terms and slowest speech I could. They are simply not ready for a class led entirely in English.

My second class was a little better than the first despite some technical difficulties in the beginning. I had a list of riddles which were invaluable for my classes because I breezed through the powerpoint every time when I was sure I was going to spend too long on it. Backup activities are Godsends. My co-teacher for this class was on the quieter side, kinda lurking around and ethereally present…is she here? Not here? Thankfully it didn’t make too much of a difference.

Third class was the best. This group was the high-level English class. They were obedient, engaged, and willing to participate. It was a nicer atmosphere to work in. The co-teacher chimed in once in a while which was also nice. One girl came up to me at the end of class and told me that I was a “very kind and good teacher” which was gratifying and so, so cute :3

My last class of the day was pretty good, the co-teacher for this class was the most vocal throughout the lesson which sped things along. There wasn’t any hand-holding as far as waiting for the co-teacher to translate, but somehow after she said the directions in English everyone suddenly understood? Ok cool?

At one point during the day, one of my co-teachers was like “Why middle school? You should be teaching little kids, elementary…” as if apologizing for the behavior of middle schoolers. I am actually still glad it’s middle schoolers. Singing and dancing isn’t really my thang. And I feel like these students still need to get to know me as a teacher. Hopefully we can have some fun and learn a lot in my classes. I want to make English something that they like, not something that they are forced to do. It will take some time but with some more engaging activities I think things will get better. Can I keep all of my students from being tuned out? Maybe not, but I want to at least make it helpful for the ones that are tuned in.