Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Red Nail Polish Made Me Do It: A Hongdae Halloween (Part I)

I am in the middle of purchasing two bottles of Hoegaarden between the legs of a Korean cowboy and English sexy zombie.

When did this become my life?

Date: October 31st, 2010
Time: 2:30 AM
Place: Hongdae, Seoul, South Korea
The Players: Jenny, Gustie, Angie, Natalia, Veanessa.
Guest Stars: black-cloaked Korean friend, guy dressed like chicken, mob of dancing ajummas.

It's Halloween.

I am dressed like kimchi. Rather convincingly, I thought, for a costume assembled in less than 36 hours.

It's just one of those nights.

The thing about nights that are supposed to be awesome is that sometimes they aren't. I think this Halloween was sort of like that. The plan was that we were all going to meet up in Hongdae and go to this club Soundholic that was having a major Halloween party. Lots of Wisco people were planning to be in attendance, so we figure it will be cool. This isn't exactly what goes down.

To start at the very beginning...

We thought we were so clever. Purchasing our bus tickets to Seoul ahead of time. How very, very fore-thoughtful of us.

Pff. Veanessa very nearly missed the bus. I'd like to credit both mine and Gustie's broken Korean pleading with the bus driver to wait as well as Veanessa's dramatic sprint out onto the platform as the bus was pulling away with us all making it onto the 3 o'clock Dongbu. (The latter event plays in slow motion in my mind.)

Mkay. So. We made it. Get to Hongdae, and we're trying to find our hostel. Gustie has booked us a room at a place called The Yellow Submarine (couldn't make this up...) and the website claims it is a five-minute walk from the subway. What it neglected to tell us was that we'd have to wind down no less than three semi-creepy alleyways to get to it. After a few confused phone calls to the receptionist, we find ourselves on the blue-painted driveway of The Yellow Submarine. We walk in, and we are aghast. Then we crack up.

Sitting at the kitchen table at the hostel are two girls from our class of Wisconsin GEPIK teachers. And then, as I turn my head to check out one of the rooms, I see that three more guys from our Wisconsin group are also staying here. All booked independently of one another. We couldn't stay away if we wanted to.

Stage: set.

Part II to follow. Because one comes after two. You get it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jenny and Gustie's Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day

I love Justin Bieber.

Or so the sign says.

Well, actually, it says something more along the lines of: Jah-seu-teen Bee-bah, but whatever. I swiped it anyway. I think it is a nice addition to my happy collection of desk chotchkies. At the moment, this assortment happens to include a red Badgers cup, no less than five different versions of Bingo, six thousand scribbled-upon worksheets and the ever-present emergency can of cheesy cheese Pringles. I have decided that upon my triumphant return to the States, there will be at least one piece of luggage solely devoted to the transport of these heavensnacks.

For the record though, I did not make this Bieberlicious sign. One of my students did. I just stole it. One of my many minor acts of thievery in this country. The "Most People Put Their Butts In The Bin" sign is now hanging on my refrigerator.

Anyway. This post is not about my mounting kleptomania.

It's about this past Saturday. Or, as it shall further be known:


The Day Where Literally Everything Went Wrong. Seriously.

Here's what happened.

So, it's pretty difficult to manage a day where everything goes wrong. To that end, I will lay out this disclaimer: one thing went right on Saturday.

We found pesto.

That was the lone success of the day. I have to say though, that we have not yet sampled this pesto, and should it turn out to be completely disgusting, I would not bat an eye.

Saturday, or TDWLEWW.S., was supposed to be a day in which we met up with friend Jake in Itaewon for lunch, went to Gangnam for a rocking KPOP concert and danced the night away at a hot club in the downtown. And exactly none of these things were accomplished.

Roadblock #1: We miss our bus.
Well, to be more accurate, we never had our bus. We were shooting for the 11:00AM into Express, but instead had to take tickets on the 12:00PM. Only mildly fazed, these things happen.

Roadblock #2: Dunkin Donuts is out of my donuts.
At this point, I should have known. No plain glazed raised... this day is just going to be off. But stupidly, we brushed off this clear sign from heaven and crossed the street to Mister Donut.

Roadblock #3: Mister Donut is out of my donuts.

... I ate some thing called a "rice ring". I am confident it is still wedged in the bottom of my stomach. This day will be a disaster.

Roadblock #4: Traffic.
The bus is late. We get into Seoul around 1:30PM. Jake is leaving. We are never gonna make it in time. No Itaewon for us. What this means in layman's terms is: no Taco Bell for us. Enter: sadness.

Okay. Regroup. We decide that the best way to salvage our afternoon would be to check out the purported Western grocery selection at Lotte World in Jamsil. It's only a few metro stops from our final destination and we're suddenly flush with time. We. Need. Pesto.

The hunt is on.

Roadblock #5: We get off at the wrong subway stop.
Why or how did this happen? Not totally sure. Can probably be chalked up to us not being able to count, but we had to be aided by an elderly Korean man in the station. Who then went on to mock our pronunciation of "Lotte". After about five minutes of discussion on this single topic, I still couldn't give you a correct answer.

Roadblock #6: We are starving, and there is no food.
We are now wandering about Lotte World, which is unpleasant. It looks like one of those attempting-to-be-fancy-but-really-just-has-a-lot-of-washed-out-pastel-colors-and-ugly-fountains-everywhere malls from the U.S. in the 1970s. This food court is nasty. We want out. We want sandwiches. This will not happen.

Roadblock #7: We cannot escape Pizza Hut.
Okay. My first night in Icheon, when I pulled up all jet-lagged and exhausted in a foreign country, I have to say: I was so thoroughly thankful to have a Pizza Hut in my city. I love Pizza Hut. I really do. But I don't love it every day. And Gustie and I had just eaten there the night prior. And I'm lactose intolerant. So this is shaping up to be unpleasant.

Roadblock #8: Our hands are tied.
Because we're foreigners, our waitresses assume we are stupid and trade in our full-size, full-menu menus for the English ones. Bah. Our pizzas come out twenty minutes apart, and Gustie is about to eat the table. An order of chicken fingers is accidentally sent to our booth. Thinking it is free service-ee for the wait, Gustie tears open a sauce packet, only to have the plate whisked away moments later. We start crying we are laughing so hard. Hunger delirium has set.

Roadblock #9: Korea does not make sense.
Gustie has advice that the pesto can be found in the "department store". I am skeptical. Department stores sell clothes, not condiments. I am wrong. We find pesto. It is roughly $12 USD. We do not care.

Roadblock #10: We do not really know how to find this concert.
Okay. Olympic Stadium. Should be evident. But there are signs in Jamsil leading to a Sports Complex. Is this different from the "Sports Complex" metro stop? We don't know. Risk it. Hop back on the subway.

Roadblock #11: There are no lockers. Anywhere.
I have a full backpack. I do not want to bring this thing into the concert. Most subway stops have locker banks for just this circumstance. The Sports Complex stop however, despite being the biggest, most open subway stop I've ever been to, does not have lockers. Curses.

Roadblock #12: Jenny does a faceplant.
Mhmm. Right in the middle of the subway station. Because, for some inane reason, there is a stage right in the middle of the subway station. This thing is only raised like six inches, but I am busy scoping the joint for the invisible lockers, and did not make this particular observation. It's too late. I go flying. Spectacularly so. And my backpack, which is now weighed down with tomato sauce and pesto continues it's trajectory over my shoulders, banging my head down to the ground. Delightful.

Roadblock #13: We need a hotel.
What's making this difficult is that the Olympic complex is sort of squatting right in-between two downtown areas. There is no hotel in walking distance that we can see. Okay, we shall find a taxi. No big deal.

Roadblock #14: We can't get a taxi.
We were turned down by a cabbie because he was not willing to make a U-turn.

I am about to kill someone.

Roadblock #15: Our eventual driver has no idea where we are going.

Roadblock #16: This is because our hotel address is wildly inaccurate.

Roadblock #17: Our hotel is out of Western style rooms.
What this means is that we will be sleeping on mats on the floor. Luckily by the time we actually got back to the hotel, we were way past caring about this.

Roadblock #18: We are running dangerously late.
It says on our tickets that the concert "may stop admitting" people after 5:30 PM.
It is 5:15 PM, and we are on the other side of the river. It is rush hour traffic. We are screwed.

Roadblock #19: We are in the nosebleed section and it's freezing.
After a breakneck sprint from the cab, we have arrived. We made it. Tickets are exchanged, beer is bought, and we find our seats. Which are in the second tier of an Olympic stadium. It is not close. We learn that our friends have snuck into the VIP area. Mood: sullen.

Roadblock #20: They are playing all ballads.
Seriously?? We came for some tunes. We are uninterested in your soulful murmuring in Korean. This is now boring.

We are out of here. The cheap beer buzz is wearing off, and we have dancing to do. Goodbye KPOP.

New plan. We're going out in Gangnam. Hoping to resurrect the broken shards of what was supposed to be an awesome day, we will recreate the splendor of our last trip to Gangnam. A trip to The Tacos has us feeling pretty good, and we are ready to rock out. Club time it is!

Roadblock #21: The club is a morgue.
There is nobody here. This is a train wreck.

The rest of the night was spent alternating between bars and clubs, drinking too much beer and rubbing elbows with way too many Koreans. I am sure that several fire code restrictions were violated in Noise Basement that evening.

The whole day was a complete disaster.

I suppose karmically, we had it coming. Korea has been pretty great so far; maybe we needed to have a dud.

I just hope the next bad day doesn't involve any more ballads and bruises.

<3 aggravation from Korea. Jenny.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Things We Do

I was just passed a note from one of my colleagues that was written by a student.

Here are the contents:

"T<3 Jennifer
Hello, Jennifer.
My name is Young Ah.
Firstly, I like you.
Because, you are my English teacher. And you like Korea.
?? I can speak English but little?? I'm sorry!!
I can't speak English very well. I'm sorry---
But I love you Jennifer --- <3

Thank You for my Teacher (Jennifer)

From. Jennifer's student (Young Ah) 2010.10.20"


My fingers are tapping on this black keyboard.

My desk smells like the grape gum that's rolling over my tongue.

This note is what's in front of my eyes.

This song is what's in my ears:

And this is what's on my mind:

I am happy.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

When You Say Wisconsin...

It still blows my mind. Let's break this weekend down, by the numbers:

Cities traveled: 3
Semi-sober conversations with non-Americans: 7?
Rounds of Cass: infinity
Songs sung at Korean kareoke: 19
Hours in mass transit: 5
Love hotels slept in: 1
Shots taken by Wisconsinites following the OSU game: 23

It's amazing I ever make it back to Icheon in one piece.
Sifting through the pics and texts now... back with details soon.

<3 from Korea. 제니파

Monday, October 11, 2010

What Happens In Hongdae...

My head snaps back up. I accidentally nodded off again. It's 7:42 AM, and I'm in a strange place once again. No ugly lamp this time, but as I watch the morning sun racing up outside the window, I am similarly disoriented. I rub my eyes. Doesn't help.

And then the silver-haired Korean man asleep next to me finally rouses.

We sort of appraise each other, embarrassed. Clearly this isn't where either of us thought we would end up this morning. I don't know your name, sir, but I do apologize for falling asleep on your shoulder. In any case, please let's not mention this again. I think we're both content to let this be a one-night thing.

Then the train screeches to a halt, and I quickly scamper off into the Gangnam Terminal.



I saw probably the most accurate reflection of my disheveled state in the eyes of Christine, an incredibly sweet English-speaking Korean news reporter on my bus back to Icheon. We had met a mere 12 hours earlier, on the bus into Seoul, back when my hair and outfit were still presentable.

Now, however, I am crashed into a red leather seat on the Dongbu Express, curled in a ball, wishing for death or breakfast, and Christine comes trotting down the aisle.

This. Is. Mortifying.

"Jennifer... did you get to sleep?"


"Ohh... I am sorry."

Later, she comes up to hand me a pear.

"This will help you."


This is what Hongdae does to people. I'm from the burbs. We don't party like this in 이천.

Started out as almost an afterthought. Angie and Gustie had never been yet, so sure, Friday. Let's go. Hit a club, have some beers. Little did we know.

First order of business: food. And by food, we mean chicken. We stopped at a restaurant literally called "Food Place". I love this country.

At dinner, we became acquainted with Angie's new friends: Natalia, of the Canadian persuasion, and Sam, a young English gentleman. Then the five of us dove into two platters of chicken and an enormous pitcher of beer.

** Author's Note: PALAU IS A COUNTRY, B*TCHES! I Wiki'd it. (Re: Having emerged from United Nations trusteeship (administered by the United States) in 1994, it is one of the world's youngest and smallest sovereign states.) Maybe you had to be there. In any case, all parties in attendance owe me a drink. **


It's club time.

I think we thought that finding a dance club would be a little more self-evident than it actually was. We wandered for a bit, and then ran into a group of Korean guys out celebrating a birthday. (Korea Fun Fact #8769: It is always somebody's birthday. If you have no excuse to go out and party, you're just not trying hard enough.) So, we're off. They ask if we prefer an electronic or a hip-hop club, but I don't really want to drop X in some Korean club bathroom, so hip-hop it is.

Begin the descent.

Into Cocoon, one of the biggest dance clubs I've ever seen in person. This place is wild. It's just this massive stimulus overload. There are people dancing in rows they are packed so tight. There are these neon green beams of light flashing everywhere. There are like five truly gigantic screens on one end of the club, playing music videos. There is a twenty-foot wide DJ booth with three emcees. There are poles and stairs and different levels and it is hot and booming. And we are right on top of all of it.

I don't really know what else to say about Cocoon, other than that it was absurd and almost too big. We were there for awhile... probably an hour or so, but after that we were so dehydrated and tired that we had to wade back over to the bar just for water. Decided that a smaller club was in order.

And what is right down the block?

Papa Gorilla.

To protect what's left of the dignity of everyone involved, I won't go into all of the gory details of Papa Gorilla Round 2. Suffice it to say, all five of us had a very interesting evening, and it took about two hours of debriefing Saturday afternoon to get the whole story on what happened Friday night.

Here's what I will tell you:

Someone ended up on the 7:30 AM bus back to Icheon.

Someone ended up passed out in the club's stairwell.

Someone made out with a Venezuelan.

Someone didn't leave Papa Gorilla until 6:30 AM.

Someone didn't watch The Bounty Hunters at the DVD 방. And changed clothes in a 24-hour KFC outside the subway terminal.

If you want the real story, you'll probably have to inquire later. Which will give us enough time to come up with something convincing.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Is This What You Thought It Would Be Like?

Do you ever get that feeling that you're just exactly where you need to be? Right place, right time, all that? Like your life is just lining up in exactly the way it's supposed to?

Yeah, me neither.

So, life. Here's what's on the docket for this weekend:

- accompany Angie and Gustie on their first Hongdae experience.
(If you are of the faithful variety, any shout-outs for our safety and navigational skills would be lovely.)

- possibly hang out with Miss Yun and her brother at some sort of Korean military facility?

- race back to Icheon for the cheap amazing beef restaurant with the Yeoju/Icheon crew.

- omelettes.

So, obviously none of this has actually happened yet- I'll let you know how it pans out. In the meantime...

I just want to say to my friends at home that may or may not read this-

I think about you all the time. I feel like Korea is the right place for me at the moment, but I miss you hard. I wish I could transport you all here with me and laugh maniacally while force-feeding you kimchi and soju, but you all have lives too and would not fit in my tiny pink apartment.

Kristen & Ben- you guys are in a photo on my desk in this hideously gaudy gold frame I found at the dollar store and my kids ask about you constantly. I'm going to try to print out more pics here, but if anyone has some to send me, I would love it.

Anywho. Sappy. Just wanted you to know I'm thinking of you and even though my life is sort of flipped upside down right now, my compass always points to the midwest.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.

Monday, October 4, 2010

This Water Tastes Like Melons

Oh, this is beautiful. Only took thirty-nine days and some vaguely pathetic pleading with a cranky but probably overpaid middle-aged T World rep, but I'm back in the world of telecommunications. It's red, it's shiny, there are some still-mysterious functions on it, but I HAVE A CELL PHONE.

010-4927-3009. Save that.

Korea Cell Phone Fun Fact #1: Texts cost 20 won. To put this in perspective for the folks in the states, 1,000 won= roughly 1 US dollar. Go Korea.

Just tested out a little bit of the Korean I practiced last night to great success. As long as someone wants to have the exact same conversation as "Sangmin" and "Jaemin" in this Teach Yourself Korean book I will have that sh*t on lock.

A few useful expressions covered in the "Cheers!" Unit of this text:

"Soju hana chuseyo."
- Please give me one soju.
(I lied. This will never be useful. I'm not sure I've ever ordered one at a time.)

"Kurigo anju-do chuseyo. Mwo issoyo?"
- And please give me bar snacks. What snacks do you have?

- Cheers!

I would type it out in Korean, but I'm not feeling that motivated at the moment. My procrastination level hasn't quite peaked yet.

What we were talking about again?

GEPIK Orientation? Sure.

So, this year the new GEPIK teachers' three-day orientation was held in Osan. Seemingly simple enough; Osan isn't super far from Icheon. Never been there though, so there is some trepidation. My cohorts for the trip- Gustie, Veanessa and Ben- tentatively agree that going up to the Seoul Express Bus Terminal would at least put us semi-close to the subway line we needed, so we got some tickets for the 8 o'clock. (Which we nearly missed while chatting on the platform.)

This was a stupid idea.

Gustie's co-teacher had given her some directions to Yatup, but being a little squirrely about going to a new terminal, we figured we couldn't go wrong with Gangnam. Well. Turns out...

So, we got to the Express Bus Terminal at 9:00 AM. We were supposed to meet the bus for people from Icheon, Yongin and Yeoju at the Jukjeon station. This was at least twenty subway stops away, with transfers. No way in hell we're doing it in 30 minutes.

Begin: Plan B.

There was (in the infinite wisdom of the GEPIK coordinators) a latecomers bus. It was set to leave from the Osan station at 10:45 AM. Basically, Osan was a similar number of metro stops, but along a different line. We figure surely we can get there by 10:45. So, executive decision. We're headed to Osan.

Plan B actually looked as though it would work. For about half an hour. It's right around 10:30, and we're optimistic about our chances. Three more stops. We can make it.

Then the train stops.

Everyone gets out.

We're oblivious to this for a few minutes before a Korean man tells us that this is the last stop. Say what?

We are very confused. The subway map clearly shows a continuance of this line to Osan. We're only two stops away, on a platform in the middle of nowhere. We are cursing Korea for this ridiculousness.

Just as we're contemplating trying to catch a cab (that probably would have had to materialize out of pure willpower) a train pulls up on the other side of the platform. Heading to Osan. This is insane. As it turns out, the line we were on has this weird one-stop offshoot from the platform we were on. Therefore, we had to switch from the LEFT side of the platform to the RIGHT side of the platform, to get to a different train going basically the same direction. Srsly.

Unfortunately, this is not the last of our problems. We miss the latecomers bus by about five minutes, so we are forced to take a cab. Our pre-orientation packets claim this trip will take about twenty minutes. Okay.

We scurry over to the taxi stand, pile ourselves and our stuffed backpacks/suitcases in, and hand the address over to the driver.

Blank, blank eyes, my friends.

This man has no idea where we're trying to go. We attempt to explain in our broken Korean. Osan? KSA? The address is written in English. We don't know. Other taxi-takers are waiting and annoyed. This is useless.

We go through about three different drivers before one finally claims to understand where we're trying to go. And even then, only with the strict guidance of the blessed GPS on his dash.

We finally pull up to the conference center. Frazzled, but miraculously not late for the opening ceremony. We have thirty minutes to get our room keys and dump our crap off. We gratefully exit the taxi.

And it's weird.

There are Americans everywhere. You don't really realize how unaccustomed you've become to hearing regular-pace English until you finally hear it again. It sounds insane, but it's sort of unnerving at first. These people can understand you. You will not have to play charades or gesticulate wildly to indicate that you are an American and happy to be in Korea. Yeah, it's weird.

But that was just the beginning.

Still to come: meeting and mocking people from lesser Midwestern states, learning samul nori and playing ping-pong with no paddles.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Playing Euchre In Korea

My mind is muddy. I have twenty-two names scribbled on the back of a bus ticket that I told myself I would try to find in cyberspace this morning, but typing "funny Australian guy" in the search bar is not helping.

I also just had to look up the proper spelling of "Australian". Ugh.

Things I've Done In The Last 72 Hours:
- got lost and missed both the regular and the latecomers buses on the way to Osan for GEPIK orientation
- took my first trip to Yeoju; ate dak galbi
- drank outside of a convenience store, multiple hours
- slept in a Winnie the Pooh blanket on the floor
- did a King Kong impression, onstage, in front of at least 300 people
- played traditional Korean samul nori
- got walked in on in the bathroom by a Canadian
- had my first normal-tasting Korean French fries at a bar at 3 AM
- celebrated Marc's birthday at midnight with a cake made out of chocolate Korean Little Debbies and a cigarette 'candle'

Once I review the pictures from this weekend, I'll be back with more details.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.