Toddler birthday party and Korean church time

Hope that everyone had a good weekend!  We had a busy one here.  On Saturday after making breakfast, my aunt and I got on the bus for a bit of a ride to go to the COEX mall in Gangnam of Seoul (which is most likely where I’ll be living).  COEX is the largest underground shopping mall in all of Asia with tons of shopping, 2 food courts, 16 screen movie theatre, aquarium, and Kimchi museum!  (borrowed photos again today, I’ve been lazy)

It was here that I finally saw some other Americans and foreigners, who my aunt’s husband calls “my friends”, haha.  We were here to look around, hopefully find me some casual, non-tennis shoes, and also get a present for my aunt’s husband’s niece’s 4th birthday.  Upon going into a department store, I nearly fainted because of the prices.  There are some parts of Korea where you can shop really cheap, but the toddler Burberry, Juicy Couture, and other Korean brand name clothes were absolutely ridiculous- several costing over $100-$200 for one article of  kid’s clothing.  This was much worse than the $23 dollar melon I saw at the grocery store the other day (out of season fruit is expensive here).  I tried talking my aunt out of this and going to E-Mart, but we finally found something somewhat reasonable for the birthday girl (who will probably just spill  kimchi on it or something).

After lunch and a bus ride home, it was pretty much time to go to the birthday party.  My aunt’s husband was working late so his sister-in-law picked us up.  At their apartment we met her husband, 3 kids, and my aunt’s mother-in-law.  It was all fine, not too awkward despite my poor Korean, and I read some children’s Korean books which were fun to read since I understood a lot of them.  For dinner we had miyeok-guk which is a seaweed soup, traditional for a birthday meal.  We also had some spicy pork that you wrap in lettuce leaves and it.  It was all very tasty though. 

Then after dinner, it was time for the birthday cake.  Korean taste buds don’t like things that are too sweet, like some of the terribly rich American chocolate desserts.  The cake was pretty and very light, with layers and had fruit in it.  We then sang happy birthday in Korean and afterwards in English because they thought it would be fun to do so since I was there.  It’s the first time their kids have ever spoken with a foreigner so I was part of the entertainment for the night.  All in all, the little girl had a nice 5th (really 4th) birthday party.  In Korea, when asked your age, you actually are supposed to say 1 year older than you are because they count the year in the womb.  Nothing to do with pro-lifers or hard-core Christians, I believe (I think only about 40ish% of the population are Christians) but I’m not sure why.  If anyone asks me though, I say I’m still in my 20’s.  No reason to be 30 yet!

Speaking of religion, on Sunday morning we woke up and went to Korean church.  For those other halfies reading this, you’ll understand my pain.  Korean church is a terrible Sunday tradition that halfies must endure.  Probably any kid growing up was antsy while having to sit through church, but it’s twice as painful when you don’t understand what the preacher is saying and also when the sermons are extra long.  We went to a methodist church where previously my aunt played piano and her husband conducted the choir for a couple of years while the choir head was on sabbatical in the U.S.  It was actually less painful than I thought it would be though.  This church had a better choir and also flat screens so I could follow along with the Korean.  I was able to sing the hymns with them, but the passages were read so quickly that I didn’t even bother.  The pastor did mention a few words I could understand (church and the news are difficult for me to follow) including mentioning George Washington in his sermon. 

Before church though, my aunt’s mother-in-law was with us and took us out for some seolleong tang (ox bone soup that is simmered overnight) which hit the spot with the rainy weather we had. 

After brunch and church, we went driving around through two different neighborhoods I would possibly be living in.  I was grateful for the drive because after viewing both, I changed my mind on where I originally thought I would want to live.  It will depend on a few factors, including where they place me for work, but at least I have a picture in my head now.

Now that I have my iPhone4, I need to remember to start taking more pictures of us doing stuff and not just food!  My P&S is acting up, but after using the HDR feature on the iPhone camera, I feel like I don’t even necessarily need to have one.  I’ll have my digital SLR if I’m going sight seeing or something, but otherwise for me, the 5 megapixels on the iPhone is more than adequate.

I like the way you move

As a realtor, I often had clients in the U.S. asking me who they should use for a moving company.  I would recommend these guys (who also moved in my aunt & her husband).  It just makes sense.  I’m sure there are people who do this in the big cities, but not in Indiana!

iPhone 4, dirty dollars, and more bananas!

Well I thought my body was more adjusted than it actually is, but I woke up around 4 something in the morning and did some reading.  The past two days have been pretty full with stuff.  On Thursday my aunt’s husband took me to the immigration office to ‘register’ myself.  We didn’t realize that would involve them taking away my passport/visa for a week, so now I can’t get a bank account opened until then.  We went to the bank anyway though, so I could exchange some money.  I decided to wait on exchanging all of it and tried my hand at just $500, hoping that the exchange rate would be more in my favor at a later time.  The teller took my money and went away.  Upon his return, he informed me that two of my five $100 bills weren’t being read by the machine.  Basically these weren’t crisp clean bills, had markings on them and a little more beat up.  I was kind of annoyed by that (money is money, right) but just went ahead with the $300.  My uncle told me that when he and my aunt went to Bali for their honeymoon, they tried the same thing with some U.S. dollars and unless they were crisp and of the updated style, they wouldn’t even take them.  I guess people are paranoid their government won’t accept them.  These don’t look too bad, right?

The Korean Won is very easy to convert to dollars for anyone.  Basically if you have 1000₩ that is roughly the equivalent of $1 (depending on the exchange rate, of course).  No complicated formula, just take off 3 zeros!  I actually got a little bit more ₩ for my $ yesterday, which was nice.  I also found out that the exchange rate isn’t the only thing that affects how much you’ll get. Apparently here, it also depends on your credit too!  If you have a well established history in good standing with the bank, they’ll waive their service fees and give you perhaps a tiny break on the exchange rate.  Guess my aunt’s husband has decent credit, ha! 

I believe the denominations for the won are:

Coins- 10₩, 50₩, 100₩, 500₩

Bills- 1000₩, 5000₩, 10,000₩, 50,000₩

The bills are slightly larger as the amounts get larger too.

Compare a 5000₩ to a US $5 bill

 

After going to the bank, we went to get a phone.  I assumed that when I got here I would save some money and just get whatever generic phone I could get.  But after being with an iPhone since the original one came out, it’s hard for me to change now.  Plus, I can rationalize my purchase saying that my friends and family can call me on skype so I wouldn’t have any international calling charges.  Not to mention if I get lost, the Korean subway/bus apps are pretty handy.  I’ll probably have to do another post on good Korean iPhone apps.  (All of these photos are taken with my iPhone 4, what do you think of the quality?)  Since I bought the iPhone 4 here, some of the items are in Korea, but you can change all of the settings to English.  Not sure if I can change this front screen, but doesn’t matter since I can get by with my minimal Korean:

Yesterday I walked around a lot by myself, did some shopping, and had lunch with my aunt’s husband at a place called Valance Burgers- which has “very delicious and balanced burgers”.  He told me the chili cheese dog was good, and since I haven’t had any American food in the past 4 days, I thought I’d give it a shot.  It was pretty good, the chili was slightly different, no beans like ours. 

When my aunt got home we then went to the E-Mart, which is very similar to a Wal-mart.  Grocery store with a bunch of other crazy stuff you can buy.  Probably bigger than a Wal-mart because this thing had 3 levels and also sold furniture, pets, and had reps from the different companies out trying to sell their products (food, makeup, etc).  My aunt told me that they don’t go shopping here that often because it’s usually crowded, takes forever to find a parking spot in the 4 level garage, and you have to make your own box to take home your groceries.  Here’s my aunt’s husband taping up a box for us-

We were all pretty tired by the time we got home.  After dinner we snacked on these mini bananas, which apparently we have in the U.S. but I never see them in Indiana.

Well, I might try to lay down again since we have a long day of shopping and a 4 year old’s birthday party for today.

Banana Milk & First Day Out

Well, I survived my first full day yesterday.  I woke up and saw my aunt and her husband off to work then  spent some time skyping with people.  After I took a shower and got ready, I decided to watch a little bit of Korean television.  Whenever I go to another state, I enjoy checking out the different commercials they air, and in Korea there are some fun ones.  Here’s an interesting one for banana milk, which I now have a strange craving for…

Watching these food commercials got me hungry so I decided to go out exploring by myself.  My aunt technically lives in a suburb of Seoul (moved for her baby who will be here soon) but she’s still in a great neighborhood with lots of things to do.  First I had to walk out of her building and down this long hill.  She lives in Hyundai Hillstate neighborhood, which are a bunch of super tall apartment buildings all clustered together, but there’s a little green area and lots of kids playgrounds.  After walking past the gated entrance, I walked by tons of restaurants, pharmacies, cafes, markets, and stores.  Although I was tempted to try a Korean version of pizza or burger, I decided my first meal here should be some real Korean food.  I walked by a small place that wasn’t too crowded and went in.  I can read/write Korean but my vocabulary is quite limited so since this wall menu had no pictures, I ordered one of the only things I knew, which was japchae, which looks like this:

(This is a borrowed picture, having issues with my tiny point and shoot and I didn’t feel like taking my DSLR out for lunch).  Then on the way back home I stopped off at a bakery for something sweet 🙂

Speaking of camera issues, does anyone know what’s wrong with mine?  I have a Canon SD400 that I got a few years ago and was working fine.  Then one trip I noticed it didn’t hold a charge.  I bought a new battery online and recharged it all the way, and now I’m noticing that I’m still having the problem.  I’m guessing I’ll have to buy a new pocket camera in Korea?

After lunch and my long walk, I came back and unpacked some of my things then took a nap for 1.5 hours.  A short time later, my aunt and her husband came back from work and her doctor’s appointment and showed me pictures of her ultrasound!  We then went to a really nice restaurant with some of my favorite Korean food including:

Galbi (marinated beef short ribs) which they cooked for us on a charcoal grill at the table-

Doengjang chigae (korean soybean paste stew/soup)

(again, these are borrowed pictures b/c my camera is acting up)

After dinner, we went to a market to get some things for breakfast and other groceries.  It was a small market, similar to the Korean store in Indy, but with an old man shouting, “oranges, get these nice, juicy, oranges, at a good price”.  His shouting wasn’t strange to me, but rather the way he was doing it, in what sounded more like an auctioneer’s voice.

This morning, I woke up at 4:30am, still not completely over my jet lag, but taking it better than I thought I would.  Time to get ready for the day.

Hello from Korea!

Well for my first post, I had a lengthy draft of who I am, what my blog is about, and why I’m doing all of this.  It seemed terribly deep and did not have the fun vibe that I was going for.  So I erased all of that and will just get down to some bullet points!

Who am I:

  • Girl in late 20’s from the midwest
  • Half Korean/half American
  • Realtor and piano teacher
  • Dog lover
  • Food fanatic
  • Arts enthusiast
  • Photographer wannabe

What is this blog about:

  • My thoughts on living in Korea
  • Fun places to go and see here
  • Pictures & video of stuff
  • Experiencing a different culture from a halfie’s perspective

Why am I writing:

  • To keep in touch with people
  • As a personal record for me to look back on later
  • For fun!

I just woke up a few hours ago, after spending my first night here in Korea.  This is pretty much my first time away from home for an extended amount of time, but I have family here so I’m lucky.  I went to IU which was only about 1.5 hours from my parents’ house and for some dumb reason I went back almost every other weekend (laundry?).  I am definitely looking forward to experiencing another culture, learning Korean better, working in new environment, and getting healthy!  In fact, somewhere among the 3 bags I checked in (and my carry-on that’s probably over the standard size) I brought 3 pairs of pants that certainly don’t fit me now but probably will in 1-2 months.  For those of you in the States, maybe you could try losing weight by eating Korean food too.  That and plus I’ll be walking wayyyyyy more than I did in Indianapolis.  There is just not really good public transportation and plus it’s kind of hard to show houses while riding a bicycle.  😛

For the first couple of weeks, I’ll be staying at my aunt and her husband’s house.  She’s really more like a sister because she’s only 3 years older than me and we lived together at college.  She’s pregnant too and will give birth to her first baby in May!  I’ll get to blog about babies in Korea, I suppose.  There are some neat traditions that they do for babies that we don’t do in the U.S.  After a couple of weeks, I’ll have my new apartment and jobs lined up so I will be set.  I plan on teaching some and also doing some work at a real estate company.  I can do this since I have an F-4 visa, different from the E-2 which is what most American teachers get when they come to Korea.  The F-4 visa process is really a whole nother post, but basically it’s for those who are of Korean descent and allows you to do a bunch of stuff.  Anyway, since it’s my first day and my 5 minute nap helped a little with the jet lag, I’m going to explore by myself since everyone’s at work.  Thanks for reading!