Baby Talk

Finally back in Korea!  I’ve been traveling for about the past month in Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand, so haven’t had much time for updating this thing.  I do need to put up some posts about my trips, but I’m not ready to delve into the task of looking through the hundreds of photos that I took  just yet.  So for now, I’ll just talk about something fun- my new baby cousin!  My aunt gave birth to him in May, so he’s getting bigger each time I return from a trip.  In Korea, after you give birth and stay in the hospital a couple of nights, a new mom goes to this sort of resort/hospital for two weeks.  Basically nurses take care of you and your baby.  Moms get massages, do crafts, learn how to breastfeed and bathe their baby, and they feed moms a whole bunch of that seaweed soup (it’s supposed to be good for you).  There are less expensive and more expensive types of these post birth spa things, it’s kind of like a very simple hotel though.  The only people allowed to visit during the two weeks there are the husband and grandparents of the baby.

These days apparently the number of young people having babies in Korea is quite low, so the government pays for the delivery (if you get a c-section it’s a little more) among other tax benefits.  Because my aunt is an American citizen, my cousin will soon get dual-citizenship, and then he will have to decide who he wants to pledge his allegiance to when he becomes 18.  South Korea has a mandatory 2 year military service for all able males.  Some choose to go before university, some after.  Recently a famous Korean star, Hyun Bin, just entered the marines so we won’t see him on tv for about two years (except for the commercials he did prior to leaving).  Here he is after getting his haircut and entering the military base.

Back to babies anyway, in Korea they don’t seem as obsessed as they used to be with having sons, although I’m sure some traditional grandparents might secretly favor the boys.  Koreans usually celebrate a 100 day birthday kind of thing (백일- literally means 100 days) which basically takes root from the days way back when the survival rates for babies were sadly low, so if they got to the 100 day mark, they were pretty much in the clear.

There is also the big deal of a baby’s first birthday (돌) where there is a bunch of food around and also the baby is supposed to pick one of several items off of a table to tell his/her future.  The items usually consist of money, pencil, spool of thread, etc.  If the baby picks up the money, then they will be rich.  If they pick up the spool of thread, they will have a long life.  In my case I picked up the pencil which meant I was to be a great scholar- yeah right.  Anyway, it’s a fun tradition as you can see from the random baby photo below.

I wonder what my cousin will choose!  His English name is Peter, Korean name is Joon-Hui (준휘).  Here’s a photo from the day he was born then one a few weeks later at home.

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Noraebangs and Tambourines

Last weekend a friend who is stationed in Japan right now came to Seoul for the weekend with some others.  We met up, had dinner at Korean BBQ, got some drinks, went to a jazz club (was okay), and then ended our night with a bang at a noraebang.  For those of you who aren’t enlightened, a noraebang (노래방) translates to singing-room, but basically is a karaoke place with private rooms that are open all hours of the night.  It’s not just going to a regular karaoke room that has an extra microphone.  These noraebangs feature several plasma flat screen tvs, different sized rooms depending on your party, great sound systems, food/drinks (at some you’re allowed to bring in stuff), sofas, tables, and most importantly… light-up tambourines!  I never knew that I would love on a tambourine so much, but get some soju in me and I won’t lay off it all night!  Case in point-

 We had several Koreans with us who sang Korean songs, but the Japanese and English song selection wasn’t bad at all.  In fact, there were a lot of newer songs to choose from.  Some of the shadier looking noraebangs, or ones out in more rural areas unfortunately don’t have all the new hits.  Anyway, you can rent out rooms by the hour and is a pretty inexpensive way to spend an evening with friends.  There are some nicer noraebangs that are decorated in themes too.  Nice plush couches and more have a hotel like feel in the rooms.

I hear there are noraebang busses that travel throughout Korea.  That would be a pretty fun way to get to some of the distant cities.  Wonder if the driver ever partakes in the fun.

Just an FYI, there are other types of ‘bangs’ (pronounce the “a” like “ah”) besides the noraebang.   There are PC bangs for playing computer games or surfing the web and also DVD bangs were people go to watch movies (sometimes some scandalous happenings go on there).  Several of each of these can be found in virtually every neighborhood here in Korea.  However the noraebang is by far my favorite.

Throwing Money in Someone’s Face

So life in Korea isn’t always rosy.  Actually daily living seems a lot more difficult for me here (probably because my commute is so long) but that’s not the hard part.  It’s the little things.  I knew that the language would be different, food would be different, etc.  But I miss little things like having personal space on public transportation, grass, diversity of people, and other stuff. 

I got into a little bit of drama earlier this week though.  A friend and I went shopping in the underground cheap shopping mall area at Express Bus Terminal station.  Basically it’s a bunch of cheap stuff at tons of different stalls.  You could really shop down there for hours.  Our plan was to leave after work, then get a few summer tops, since the weather is already getting quite a bit warmer, then head home.  In the middle of our shopping experience we hit a big of a snag. While looking through one particular rack of clothes, my friend was standing near this crochet shrug on a mannequin, which had a string hanging down from it.  More like a big thread, one of the crochet things or whatever you call it came loose.  But then she got her bracelet caught on it.  I quickly and surreptitiously tried to yank the string off her bracelet, but it was proving to be difficult without further pulling the string from the shirt.  Of course one of the ladies working there sees us breaking it free from her bracelet and begins to chew us out in Korean.  Now, I understood every single word this lady was saying to us, but I thought it best under the circumstances to act ignorant and pretend that I didn’t know any Korean.  My friend is blonde so she probably just assumed neither of us understood any Korean.  Another girl who worked there was a little nicer, but the main girl yelling was incredibly rude saying that we ruined the shirt, how can she sell it, she has to buy it, etc.  I was hoping that our not ‘understanding’ Korean would be in our favor, but this chick was not letting us leave without a fight.

At this point, one really has only a few options.  One is to run (which really was not an option to either of us), two is to just pay her for the shirt (which my friend really didn’t want to do because it really wasn’t her fault), and three come up with some other solution, maybe split the difference?  Anyway after my friend and the lady started arguing some more a huge crowd of Korean women- shoppers and other shop keepers, started to gather around us.  Just great.  Other people whose English was not very good at all tried to explain to us what the girl was yelling, but I think anyone could understand even if you didn’t speak Korean.  She wanted 10,000 won for the shirt, which really is nothing at all, only $10.  But it was the principle of the matter.  How could she make her pay for a shirt that was already fraying and then  blame it on us.  In the end my friend had had enough and threw a 10,000 won bill in the girl’s face (I’ve secretly always wanted to do that).  We immediately turned and left and that was the end of it.  The girl didn’t chase us down or yell at us anymore.  She was happy because she only cared about the money.  We tried not to let that event ruin the rest of our shopping experience.

The next day my friend said that she felt a little bad about throwing the money in the girl’s face and I just told her not to worry about it too much, it’s over and we can move on.  In the past she said she would have really blown up at the girl and just waited for the police, but we both knew why we shied away from that solution.  Since we were foreigners, the police pretty much would have taken the side of the shop owners.  It’s not to say they wouldn’t have listened, but I am 99% sure that’s how it would have ended.  We would have had to pay them anyway or been hauled down to a police station and in the end that’s not worth it over $10.  But I’m glad that we both got over it more quickly than we would have thought.  Especially myself, even though it wasn’t my bracelet that got caught, in the past I would have thought about the incident for days, perhaps a week or so and replay the event over and over in my head.  But the way that girl was acting was out of control.  It’s not like many people here, she was obviously having a bad day.  Maybe tired of having to work underground getting paid very little for watching shoppers and then having to go home and live with her overbearing mother.  With an attitude like hers, I’m sure she had a hard life.  And so, it was easier to forget.

So in the end, the moral of the story is- watch out for your jewelry while shopping.

Cute Umbrellas and Trees with I.V.’s

It is raining like cats and jindo geh’s today with quite a bit of thunder, and it’s not even monsoon season yet.  People in Korea are constantly putting umbrellas in those plastic baggies so that they won’t get water everywhere, which makes sense.  However at work places, there’s usually a bucket that everyone puts their umbrellas in.  A week or so ago, I bought a cheap but decent looking white umbrella with one of the J shaped handles (I prefer those to the collapsable kind).  I put it into the bucket at work and when I went to leave later, I found that it was gone!  Someone had taken my umbrella!  Luckily, there was another one in the room I was teaching in that was left behind months ago.  But still, this might deter me from buying a pretty designer umbrella in the future.  Mmm…. maybe not (the umbrellas are so cute here).

jindo dog

(korean Jindo dog)

While out on another one of my walks this past week, I noticed these trees in a certain area (near a nicer apartment building) have IV’s hooked up to them.  Trees with IV bags.  I guess they are often filled with saccharin, pesticides or medicine, and are especially good for trees that are surrounded by a lot of concrete and don’t get a lot of nutrition otherwise.  These trees seemed to be surrounded by enough other greenery, but perhaps not. 

I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this in America, but maybe I’m just not going to the right kind of places.  Maybe these trees below need something extra.  They look a little strange.  Actually the trees here in generally are a lot shorter and skinnier than American trees.  Just like people! (I can’t talk b/c i’m short too….)

“Do You Know South Korea?”

Yesterday I went out to a few places, including my first visit to Itaewon, which is kind of an international neighborhood.  I had to wait a little longer for the subway to get there, because apparently there was an accident and few cars derailed one stop from where I was getting on.  No injuries, but it did slow down the process a bit.

After taking the long ride, once I stepped out of the subway exit, I almost freaked out because I saw some many westerners in Itaewon.  It’s a bit of a culture shock if you can count the number of westerners you’ve seen so far on two hands.  I’ll have to go back and explore it during the day, but I did see there were quite a few restaurants, including some unhealthy fast food that I may crave in a month or so- KFC and Taco Bell. Itaewon is the place where a lot of military folk hang out too, so there’s a mix of them, teachers, other workers, people running restaurants from other countries, etc.  Korea in general is a pretty homogenous society though, so this neighborhood is interesting to see.

Anyway overall I had a good time.  I had to make sure to leave in time to get back home because the subway here stops operating so early- ridiculous.  I was really tired though so it didn’t really bother me.  The nice Welsh girl I met told be about this neat video called “Do You Know South Korea?”.  This is how you are supposed to use vimeo.  If only I had the time and patience.  Hopefully I will in two months when my work schedule changes. 

Scary Bus Ride

Transportation in Seoul is a pretty wonderful thing.  If you’ve lived in a larger city, it’ll be similar to what you’re used to.  But for me coming from Indiana, the idea of subways and taxis at every corner is something new.  For most of the transporatation here (including most taxis) you can use your “t money card” (remember that gold thing I showed you on my bank card?) to pay for your transportation.  You can also use it at a few places like 7-11 and little shops to buy newspapers and such.  Some people have a sort of t money card attached to their cellphone, like a charm, and they are so cute!  You just put it on the scanner and go.

Anyway the Seoul subway system is great, pretty clean, except that it stops at midnight.  Now, I haven’t even stayed out that late since I gotten here, but I imagine a time will come when that may have to happen.  The busses might run a tiny bit later but I’m not entirely sure yet.  Not sure why they stop the trains so early.  Some say it’s so the taxis can make more money.  Some say it’s to keep them free of riff-raff.  Either way, I think they need to stay open until at least 2am.  That’ll force the club goers to stay out until 5am when the subway starts again.

Every afternoon I have to ride the bus home and we drive on this scary thing, almost round-about thing.  Here is a video of what I experience on the way home, except it’s like 100 times less scary than in real life.  I ALWAYS feel like the bus is going to tip over the bridge into the Han River because of how fast we are going.  Sometimes I sit there and think about what I would do if our bus did fall into the river, how could I get out while the bus is filling with water, etc.  These thoughts come into my mind because of the horror I experience every Mon-Fri afternoon!

(Around 25 seconds you’ll see the some art that looks like people climbing)

Children’s Park and Cherry Blossoms

On the bus now, my first time using the wordpress iPhone app.

Anyway this morning after I got off the bus I ran into some people I knew from work. They showed me a short cut that goes through Children’s Grand Park. This “park” features gardens, amusement park, sculptures, water park, picnic areas, pavilions, and even a zoo! The weather has been really nice this week and the cherry blossom trees are finally blooming so I decided to take the shortcut in the afternoon too. I managed to get myself a tiny bit lost (the Korean side streets are crazy and not numbered like in the U.S.) but I managed to find my way out. There were a lot of people out so it was a nice sight to see. I was getting hot too so I took off my trench coat. I swear Korean people do not sweat. And they don’t get as hot as Americans. Hence the lack of deodorant here (you can find it in but it’s difficult to do and expensive). Good thing I stocked up before I came here!

Here’s a picture I took walking through the park.

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