Double Eyelids and Hair Magic

I’ve been in Korea about a month now and one major thing that I’ve noticed is that compared to the U.S. (well Indiana at least), Koreans are a lot more image conscious and go to great (sometimes extreme) lengths to look good.  In general, most people (usually younger people) would not even dare step out of the house unless they were completely put together, this includes guys too.  This is another reason why plastic surgery is such a big hit here, I guess.  It’s kind of sad really because they get the double eyelid surgery or heighten the bridge of their nose to look more Western.  They also have people here who do other crazy things like jaw reduction and calf reduction, which just sounds terribly painful.  A lot of males also do plastic surgery here- to help them meet women and go higher up in their companies.  I’m getting better at telling what actors on tv have had surgery now.  Some of the prettiest faces though are ones that haven’t touched a thing- a lesson for us all!  Here’s a link with some good before and after photos of double eyelid surgery. 

I suppose I shouldn’t judge though because I’ve been dying to change something about myself recently…. my hair!  Yesterday I went out with my aunt, did some errands, had lunch at Outback (a little different from the one in the U.S.) then went to the Bak Ji-Young Hair Vogue (박지영 헤여보그 i believe) at the Express Bus Terminal so I could get my hair done.  Most halfies aren’t blessed with silky, straight, dark Korean hair.  Usually we end up with some craziness, different colors, and wavy.  My hair has become really hard to manage here (gets worse in the summer because of the humidity) so I knew I needed to do something about the problem.  I decided to get a trim, thinning out, side bangs and… Magic Straight!  Basically it’s a Korean system of hair straightening that also gives your hair a lot of softness and shine.  I’ve gotten my hair straightened in the U.S. before using all types of products meant for many different ethnicities (black straight perms, white perms, asian ones too)  but this one makes my hair still feel healthy and is probably best suited for my hair type.  Also, when they were doing my hair, it didn’t have the harsh smell of chemicals like many of the products I’ve used in the past.  Here’s a before and after of someone online:

So anyway, at the salon the first thing we did was find the stylish who my aunt had previously used for haircuts.  Jessica was there and she spoke some English, which makes things convenient for me.  They take my coat and lock my purse away giving me a key that I can take with me.  First she talked to me about what I was going to do to my hair, then her assistant shampooed my hair.  At this place, it seemed like they had an assistant, or apprentice stylist, for every customer.  So if it’s a little busy, the stylist does the cutting while the assistant does things like shampooing hair or blow drying.  It’s a decent system and felt especially good when I had two people working on my head at the same time.  They bring you tea and a nice comfy thing that sits on your lap so you can read a magazine (since the whole process with a haircut takes about 3 hours).  I won’t bore you about the details of the process but when she was done, I was very happy with how it all looked and also the texture of my hair.  Okay, so makeovers aren’t fun without before and after photos, so even though I hate putting up pictures of myself, here we go:

before hair (this is with me doing nothing to it- all natural waves & color)

 

after hair magic!

 

So what do you think?  It’s still taking me some getting used to because now I feel like my head is a few sizes smaller.  It’ll be easier to manage here so that’s the thing I’m most concerned about.  I don’t have time to be messing around!  Also now I will blend in more easily with the Koreans (not that I was trying to).  A lady on the subway tapped me on the shoulder from behind and asked me how long until her stop.  I had no clue and had to look it up on my iPhone.

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Fish at the Bank

Discovered this during my walk today.  Forget putt putt, I’d rather have fresh fish.

Putt Putt at the Bank

So about a week or so ago I finally got my alien registration card- commonly known as an ARC.  It basically has similar info to a driver’s license except also shows what country I’m from and what type of visa I’m here on.  I feel so official!

You need it for opening a bank account, getting a phone (my is on my aunt’s husbands account so didn’t need it when I got my iPhone), and lots of other things.  Last week, I was finally able to open my own bank account.  I had just been carrying around cash, which is  new for me since in the States all I used was my Hello Kitty Visa card.  I first had to decide which bank to go with.  Some employers here will only pay direct deposit to a specific bank, but luckily who I’m working with now deposits into the bank that I wanted to go with- KEB or Korea Exchange Bank.  KEB (top borrowed photo) is not the same as KB bank (the bottom borrowed photo), which is another popular bank that people use here.

 

 

 

I chose KEB because of their decent exchange rates, English online banking, and relatively easy transferring to my US bank accounts.  Many expats use them and because of that they have three foreign VIP banking centers whose staff all speak English (decent English) but more importantly have really nice lounge areas with refreshments and a little putt putt area.  They don’t have as many ATM’s as other banks but the fees here are lower than in the U.S. (maybe about a dollar total) and I needed that English online banking.

I took the subway to Gangnam which had one of the 3 foreign VIP locations and had to call because it was a little difficult to find.  The directions on the website were decent but I wasn’t sure which building it was in.  I called and got to speak with some in English about which building it was in- Star Tower, aka Gangnam Finance Center.  (lots of borrowed photos today!)

I opened up a checking and savings account and received my new debit card (they call it a check card) all in about 30 minutes.  I also asked for the “T Money” option which allows me to refill money on a separate account on the card which I use for the subway, busses, and taxis.  It’s really convenient because you don’t have to even take the card out of your wallet when you scan it for the subway.  Just lay your wallet on top of it machine and it takes out the money!   (it scans that gold box on the left side of the card)

I can also use this card at international ATM’s but can’t use it as a debit card in other countries.  KEB had lots of other options but I just got a basic account.  They also have investment and loan programs too- check out their website.  Anyway, so if you’re interested in getting a Korean bank account, I highly recommend KEB.

Toilet Paper and Yellow Dust

Hope that everyone had a good weekend!  This weekend instead of joining in the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Insadong (which looked fun from the pictures I’ve seen) I went and visited my aunt and cousin in Chungju (충주 first part sounds like “choose”) which is a small city about a couple of hours away from Seoul.  It’ located kind of in the middle of South Korea with a population of around 200,000.  My mom is from somewhere near here, but I’ll have to ask her exactly where she grew up.  Anyway, my point is, it’s a really small town as you can see:

Chungju city’s slogan is “Good Chungju” which just cracks me up.  It’s even more fun than “Hi Seoul”.  I don’t think cities in the U.S. have slogans, but I’m glad we don’t.  It would be hard to sum up what the city is about in just a few words.

We took a pleasant bus ride down to Chungju.  I’ve been here once before about 4 years ago when I came for my other aunt’s wedding.  This aunt has two kids- one boy and one girl, both around my age, both nurses.  Her son still lives with her but her daughter just got married a few months ago and live closer to Seoul.  Anyway, it’s always a good time when I see her (even though we can’t communicate very well) because she is a great cook and there’s always plenty to eat!  My aunt and I came bearing some gifts (fruit and some Baskin Robbins ice cream- which is pretty expensive here) and stopped by my aunt’s restaurant first.  (Her restaurant is about a 30 second walk from her house.)  She owns a sundae (순대 pronounced soondae) restaurant and I just now realized what I ate.  No wonder my English speaking aunt refused to tell me when I asked, haha….  

my aunt’s soondae restaurant

 Stop reading now if you don’t want to get grossed out, but soondae (sundae, whatever you prefer) is a dish made by boiling or steaming cow or pig intestines then stuffing it with stuff (maybe noodles, rice, kimchi, veggies, etc).  Really I had an idea of what it was, but I just chose not to think about it 🙂     The soondae in this picture is the darker looking stuff.  Not sure what part of the pig the lighter colored meat is and I don’t really care to know.

She still had a few customers there so after we ate and chatted it up a bit, my cousin walked us to their house.  Housing varies a lot here, just like in the U.S., but I think more so here because of the age of some of these buildings.  Compared to my other aunt’s newer apartment  (the one who I’m staying with), her house is very small, but felt like home nevertheless. 

My English speaking aunt reminded me upon our arrival to the house that I shouldn’t put toilet paper in the toilet, I have to throw it away separately.  There are many places like this in Korea (probably in other parts of the world too) that have to do this if they don’t have updated plumbing.  This was a much better option than using the squatter’s toilet at her restaurant so no big deal. 

We put down our things then watched my cousin popped in his sister’s wedding DVD.  Koreans really have an interesting system for weddings here.  I should do another post on that (dedicated to Tammy!) but they do a great job with the DVD setups and editing the photos… maybe too good of a job on the photos!  My aunt and recently wedded cousin arrived soon after and we ate.  Slept, then in the morning ate a huge breakfast of some of my favorites:

L.A. Galbi (갈비  marinated beef short ribs called L.A. galbi because the meat is in the shape of California) 

Doenjang jigae ( 된장 찌개 soybean paste soup)
Godeungeo ( 고등어 this really good fish)
bunch of Korean side dishes

My sister really likes galbi, so she missed out.  I don’t think in the U.S. we normally eat this big of a breakfast, but I stuffed myself yesterday morning!  She remembered all of the foods I liked 4 years ago and made them for me again 🙂

After we were done digesting, it was  time to get ready then went out and walked around some parts of Chungju and stopped at a coffee shop.  Here’s a short video of us and a look at some of the cute cakes we had with our coffee (yes, pretty much all we did was eat this weekend):

We decided to cut our outing short because on the taxi ride to town we heard a yellow sand/Asian dust/yellow dust/etc warning issued for that day and advised people to stay inside if possible.  This yellow dust is a seasonal happening in the fall, but worse in the spring.  The dust starts from the deserts of China and blows its way over to Korea, Japan, and nearby.  It makes the city look kind of yellow and foggy, makes cars dirty, but also is bad because it picks up some pollutants in the air and can really make certain people sick.  After my nap, I noticed my throat was a bit itchy but solved that problem with some honey tea.

I could go on and on the rest of the weekend about what we ate, jokes we laughed about, the lazy naps we took, and what juicy Korean dramas we watched, but I’m feeling lazy now.  Some other highlights were skyping with my relatives in Japan (first time I saw them since the earthquake and stuff, they’re ok) and also meeting my cousin’s husband for the first time (he picked us up and drove us back to the Seoul area).  My mom and other aunt in America met him for the first time over Skype.  Bowing is hard to do over the internet, especially on an iPhone 4!

Health Care and Korean Costco

Well I have been sick for about a week or so, and hence have not had the time/energy to blog.  I’m feeling much better though and want to make sure I do blog more regularly (hoping for twice a week).  I was bound to get sick though because before I left America to come here I was rushing around getting things tied up and packing bags.  Then I came here and didn’t have much time to adjust and rest before I started this one job.  That one is over now though and I have a week and a half off til working at another place. 

Last Saturday my aunt took me to the doctor.  It was just a bad cold so I said we didn’t really have to go, but she said in Korea everyone goes to the doctor if they have even a slight cold.  I don’t know exactly how the health care system works here but so far I have experienced it twice.  The first time to get the first series of a hepatitis B shot and the second time for this cold.  I went to two different places, but each time I had a relatively short wait and was in and out lightning fast.  They really are more like little clinics, tons around near where my aunt lives, and you just sign in and wait.  My aunt told me that I might have to get the shot on my butt, which I REALLY was unhappy about, until I found out I could just get it in the arm.  Only babies get shots on their bottom, right?  🙂

The second time I visited a clinic, the doctor started speaking in English, and seemed excited about getting the chance to use English since he’s outside of the Seoul area.  After checking some normal stuff, he stuck this tool that looks like you would see at a dentist’s office up my nose, sprayed some stuff, then used another tool to suck it out (sorry for the graphic details!).  Good thing my aunt warned me about that otherwise I would have just freaked out because it felt weird.  Then he told me what was wrong, gave me a prescription and I was on my way.  The doctor spent less than 5 minutes with me, but was able to help me, find out what was wrong, then send me on my way.  The visit only cost me around $12.

The pharmacy (약국) was right below that second floor clinic, and that too took less than 5 minutes of waiting.  One guy standing around all of this medicine, a little crowded but he got the job done.  He gave me some slightly watered down cough syrup and several other pills, about 5 days worth, costing around $10.  Besides meds, in the pharmacy they also sold prune juice, and those face mask things (including a hello kitty one).  I’ve seen many people wear those here.  Some do it to protect themselves (or others) from germs, others use them because it’s cold and windy.

Early on Sunday, we went to one of the 7 Costco locations in Korea.  For a moment, I thought I was in America!  Except, for a few minor changes.  First, my aunt’s husband dropped us off at the entrance and went to go park.  We didn’t see him for another 20 minutes or so.  Apparently we also went when it wasn’t busy so it’s usually a lot worse (waiting 1 or 2 hours to find parking and get back inside).  We grabbed a cart (smaller than the ones in the U.S.) and showed her Costco I.D. to get in.  The main floor had everything except food- electronics, jewelry, pianos, lotions, toys, etc.  Then we took this weird escalator down to the lower level which is where all the food is.  This place was huge and had all of the brands I know and love!  I bought some Kraft cheese (Korean cheese just is not the same), some pasta, and other stuff that my stomach has probably been missing.  They had a lot of American brands, also the Costco Kirkland brand, as well as many Korean brands.  Here’s some footage of us going down to the lower level.  (you’ll be able to hear I’m still sick)

After we paid, but before leaving Costco, we decided  to get some cheap lunch there.  In Indiana, the hot dog & drink meal at Costco costs $1.50.  In Seoul, it’s 2000₩ so about $2.  For 5 or 10 minutes we were walking around the tables to find a spot to sit down and eat.  We thought we found a table then some other person rushed to it and said ‘they had been waiting for a while’.  Our food was getting cold so I said forget it, I’m gonna eat standing up.  It’s not like we needed silverware to eat our food anyway.  Afterwards, we had to wait again for my aunt’s husband to get the car, but it didn’t take too long.  All in all, a successful and relatively painless trip to Korean Costco!

Some of what they offer at the Costco here:

Turtle ships and Tea

So this past Tuesday was a national Korean holiday- March 1st movement, aka Samil (삼일 운동).  For those a little rusty on your eastern history, Korean was under Japanese rule from 1910 until the end of WWII in 1945.  On March 1, 1919  at 2:00pm, a group of Korean nationalists read the Korean Declaration of Independence to crowds throughout the country.  (read more about it here)

Anyway, since it was a holiday, my aunt and her husband got the day off and we went sight seeing.  It was a little cold that day, so we started out in Gwanghwamun Square (광화문) and went to see the King Sejong statue.  It turns out that in the back of the statue is the entrance to the King Sejong museum, which recently opened.  King Sejong was a really important king, the guy who (with his scholars) invented the Korean alphabet which allowed Korea to have their own alphabet that people could use, instead of using Chinese characters.

Behind this statue, there are stairs that lead down to the entrance of the museum (Koreans seem to love building things underground- remember COEX?).  It exhibition hall/museum is partly about Admiral Yi, who on numerous occassions courageously battled against the Japanese navy, even when outnumbered.

Admiral Yi photo borrowed from Korea.net

 Inside the museum, I got one of those cheesy headphone sets that have a mini tablet connected to it.  It walks you through and tells you about the different exhibits.  There are some fun ones for the kids too.  You can shoot guns or canons at the Japanese navy ships too.  Here’s my aunt’s husband doing it:

The Kobukson (거북선) aka Turtle Ship was the first ironclad battle ship in the entire world, which the Koreans started to use in the early 15th century (other models were made in earlier centuries, I don’t know much about history).  The Turtle Ships helped Admiral Yi defeat the Japanese navy.

My mother got my grandfather (dad’s dad) a really cool cigarette, lighter, ash tray set when she came to America for the first time.  Her’s looked cooler, but here is what a Kobukson lighter looks like:

Here is some of my bad video skills inside the Kobukson (or Geobukseun, whichever you prefer).  I think I need to hold the camera steadier and go more slowly, in general:

Instruments- I think my aunt is playing with a Gayageum (가야금)

A gross photo of me sitting on some royal bench.  (note to self- buy more shoes without laces, all of the tying and untying has become quite cumbersome)

After the museum, we walked around some more in the the area and I saw a police tank.  Not a sight I’m used to seeing in Indianapolis.

Before we went into the museum that morning we saw this group of protestors.  Funny thing was that when we left the museum they were gone.  My aunt jokingly said they were on their lunch break.  Then we had some lunch and came back and saw them again.  She was right!

After all of that fun and excitement we decided to go to Insadong (인사동), a district in Seoul that has a lot of antiques, art, and other stuff.  I really liked this area, very vibrant, lots of old mixed with new.  The first thing we did after finding some impossible parking (my aunt’s husband is a master parker, seriously, the parking spots are tiny here!) was  get some hoduk (호덕)  which are these Korean pastries that you can get on the street.  Very tasty- one of my favorite sweet things to eat.  I took some video of them making it:

We did some window shopping in the antiques places.  Lots of pretty silks, beautiful ceramics, and pretty artwork.  We ended our trip to Insadong with a trip at a tea house (a little expensive but they give you a lot).  My aunt and I had this plum tea.  Here’s my tea:

My aunt shows what the plum at the bottom of the cup looks like:

Overall, we had a very fun and interesting Samil Day!  I started one of my new jobs on Wednesday, which is why it’s taking me a little longer to post stuff.  I’ll be moving into my own place a week from tomorrow.  I’ll definitely take some video of that too.  In the meantime, I’ll work on my video skills (all of my photos and videos were taken with my iPhone 4, quality ok?).