Everyone talks about coming to Korea and finding “their” mountain. Well, this week I met mine. Her name is Chanmasun, and she is a 20 minute walk from my apartment. My coworker Kin made the introduction. I should say here that Kin is in far better shape than I am. We made it about half way up before I decided that I’d made it far enough past the ajummas to keep my head held high on the decent. There is a fresh water spring at her base. The water is cold and healthy and well deserved at the end of a three hour hike. Chanmasun’s got my back. This is going to be a growing relationship, getting to know her sides and paths. Finding the best flat places to sit and read and breath and listen. Learning how rain and cold make her feel. Meeting the other people who have known her much longer than I have. I intend to make this a once a week visit, every Tuesday. I’m looking forward to getting to know one another.
Fella-mance July 29, 2010
I have tried to sell my husband Doug on the word bromance, beyond its hilarity and perfect description of close male friendships, as a word that liberates heterosexual men from the constraints of a homophobic society. It was this last point that won him over… as long as I agreed to never use the word bro. We compromised on fella-mance.
Doug’s life is a hard one. He got to marry a smoking hot, funny, smart, beautiful, hilarious, interesting, adventurous, derby girl who is only slightly too good for him. In addition to that, my husband is in a loving, committed fella-mance with his best friend Kyle. Doug and Kyle have the kind of friendship that most of us only dream about. Their purely heterosexual love knows no bounds, and it is for this reason that three months after our landing in the Republic of Korea, so did Kyle. Not only did he move to the other side of the world, but he is now working at the same hagwon as us, living next door.
Doug and Kyle are both writers and support one another’s career. They are partners in writing, editing, and crime. (if by crime you mean boring chatter about horror movies until 4am at Denny’s) Kyle is Doug’s most reliable reader, because God knows I’m not going to read all that scary stuff.
They challenge each other to be better writers and better people. All three of us were over educated and working in retail in Dayton, Ohio with no hope of escape. That’s why Doug talked his bestest buddy into this job. What are you doing? Do you like what you’re doing? Are you too good for what you’re doing? Most importantly, why not?
They also genuinely enjoy one another’s company. From September 1st to November 3rd, I rarely see Doug because the two of them are out seeing every single haunted attraction that Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Michigan have to offer. I’d love to do this with Doug and share in something that he looks forward to every year, but I would also like to get to bed at a reasonable hour.
I’m never jealous of the attention that Doug gives Kyle. I’m always envious of their friendship though. Since we’ve landed, I am in love with the Land of the Morning Calm, but I miss my friends so much. I miss margaritas with Amanda. I miss yoga with Jo. I miss the rare but wonderful lunch with Heather. I miss Liz smelling exactly like a girl. I miss Brigitta occasionally blowing into town. Just imagine being able to roll all of these wonderful friendships into one glorious mega friend with ninja chop action and a smile that kills. A friend that you can count on to come through for you. To set you up with a job in South Korea. To take a job in South Korea. A friend that you can count on, just to like you, a lot.
Oh My God Motel July 13, 2010
Some lessons you learn once. Some lessons need to be reiterated.
This weekend Doug and I took our very first overnight trip out of Hopyeong. We chose beautiful Suwon for its World Heritage Site, the Hwaseong Fortress and the nearby Korean Folk Village. The trip was fun but proved to be more about learning how to travel than sightseeing.
Lesson #1: The place you sleep in is not the place to save some money.
I know that this lesson was summed up in a blog I wrote oh, 3 months ago, but it bears repeating. Put the extra money down for a hotel that you are more than 63% sure you won’t be murdered in. You should never have to tell yourself, “It will probably be fine.” Stupid guide-book. It recommended six hotels in Suwon, only six. You’d figure that they stayed there long enough to get a look around, but you figured wrong. We went to Gwangmyeong Yeoinsuk because it was cheap and the closest to the train station. Lonely Planet describes it as such, “Right in front of Suwon Station, this typical budget yeoinsuk (family-run hotel) has no beds, only yo (padded quilts) on the floor. The sign, down a dark alley off Maesanno, is easy to miss.” We found the sign lickedy split. I’m sure that reading Hangul helped. Dark alley is a very nice way to describe a narrow twisting corridor that is guarded by a silent squatting man who, upon seeing you, walks you to a room and asks for 20,000 won then gives you a tray with two toothbrushes and two open bottles of water that have clearly been refilled. I saw no yo, but did see a bed that raised a lot of questions, even for a motel. There was a tv that didn’t turn on, a fan that made a percussive clicking and a window that would be perfect for breaking into. Lonely Planet, you own me 20,000 won I’ll never get back.
Lesson #2: Set a schedule and stick to it.
When you say that you need to get up early and get onto the bus by 9am so you can have lunch in your destination, do not go out for fried chicken, beer and bowling until 4am the night before. Also, don’t get caught up talking to your best friend from high school for two hours no matter how delightful she is and no matter how much you miss her. Don’t drag your feet and finally pull it all together at 2:30pm. For god sake, get out the door!
Lesson #3: Less is always more.
You do not need your laptop. You, at most, need one book per traveler. You only need one pair of comfortable shoes. You may wear your cute pointy red shoes later. You could even wear the same clothes two days in a row, no need to pack a change. The less you pack and need to carry, the happier you will be.
Lesson #4: Don’t take everything the travel book says as gospel.
See above review of the Your Stuff Probably Won’t Get Stolen Here Motel.
Lesson #5: Aren’t all motels are love motels?
A love motel is a place that caters to couples in which one half of the partnership is spending money and the other half is making money. They also cater to the occasional American who just wants a safe, clean, cheap place to stay for the night. There is no need to be too snobby to stay in a love motel, but you should stay in a clean one with friendly people at the front desk. Also, it is not my job to find the motel. It is my job to sit and drink coffee until Doug comes back and tells me that he has paid for and seen our room and all I need to do is put my stuff in it. We stayed in the Oh My God Motel (I am in no way trying to make a joke, that was the name of the motel, promise) We paid cash and had to leave the key at the desk when we left for dinner.They didn’t even ask for our names, which was disappointing. I would have been delighted to stay under the alias of Mr. and Mrs. Turd Ferguson. All and all, it was just what we needed. It ran 40,000 won for the night, had clean sheets on the bed, a TV to watch, and a locking door. If you kept the TV on you couldn’t even hear the other guests earning a living.
Lesson #6: Pack snacks.
Oh shit! My mother was right. She was right about everything. While it is better to under pack, make sure you to set some room aside for a bag of red Twizzlers or something. That way you have the stomach to explore for fine local cuisine rather than getting frustrated and just eating spaghetti at Mr. Pizza.
Lesson #7: When you spend money, write it down.
Just because your mom isn’t there to make you take out the notebook that she wrote your name on the cover and put into the fanny pack that she is forcing you to wear, doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to keep a ledger. Don’t try to sell yourself on the idea that you can keep track of anything in your head. Don’t even try to just tally everything up at dinner. You’ll forget where you spent money. It also makes you think twice before spending money when you know that you have to pull out the old Moleskin and jot it down.
I did get to see the fortress gate and part of the wall, but not nearly to the extent that I would have liked to. We missed the last free shuttle to the Korean Folk Museum, but still had a great time. We went shopping in the market. We had beer and cake in a little booth that is clearly where teenagers go on dates and then write on the walls how much they love each other and draw the occasional smiley face or penis. We got to stumble upon a beautiful temple that just grew out of the back allies and stores and restaurants and listen to the monks’ evening chants. We will go back to Suwon and do it properly, but for now we are a little more wise to the ways of traveling in a strange land.
Re-urinate-d and it feels so good July 2, 2010
So you drank your fill of soju and now you’ve got to make like a pregnant lady and pee. Not to worry stranger. This helpful blog will get your pants down and your pee out in the most sanitary and polite way possible.
The first thing you should know is they don’t flush toilet paper here. It has nothing to do with ineffective plumbing, high population density, or toilet paper made of lead. The entire culture just got it in their heads that toilets are incapable of handling bits of disolvable paper. They also think that if you leave a fan on in a room with the windows closed it will chop up the molecules in the air and kill you. There is no fan death and paper goes through the pipes just fine. Don’t be surprised when you see a trash can next to the commode full of used paper. You do not need to partake in this tradition. Go ahead and send that paper to a watery grave. I know this is setting me up for a very embarrassing clog situation someday when I have to explain in Konglish why there is paper in the bowl. I still risk it. I get off on the danger.
Now that you know, and will break, rule #1, you might want to know how to find the bathroom. You probably need to leave where ever you are. Don’t drink that watery beer so fast. Cass will go right through you and then you’ll have to go out the back door, make a sharp left, go into the adjoining building and that public restroom that 4 businesses share and none of them clean? That’s the one. Take a deep breath. We’re just getting started.
Koreans spit. A lot. Everywhere. If you look down and see what is clearly a bodily fluid on the floor by your shoe, fear not, it’s just spit. It’s just spit.
So you got into the stall… well that’s weird, there isn’t a toilet in here, just a porcelain hole with a flusher on it. This is a rarity, but I love it when I come across the female urinal. This is easy: drop trow, squat and let it flow. I don’t know how much further the women’s movement would progress with the level of empowerment that peeing standing up brings. I am woman hear me pee! Anyone who tells you that these are hard to use doesn’t have the ovaries to embrace the freedom of the standing pee. Also, you get to foot flush, which I love.
More likely you found a toilet and assessed the seat. You made a judgment as to ass-to-seat or hover. (Be a woman and put your cheeks down, princess). You made your deposit and the only paper you see is in a trash can. It very well maybe that the dispenser is not in the stall, but on the wall just outside. Before you head in there, look around to see if this is a bring your own paper situation. In some bathrooms, you’re just on your own. I keep tissue in my purse just to be safe. Then again, there is the Girl Scout Camp standard of drip and dry.
Thank God that’s over, you’ve cleansed the pallet and are ready to wash up, head out and reload your bladder with more Cass. Not so fast, pilgrim. I’ve yet to tell you how to get those pretty hands of yours ready to dive back in to the free bowl of dry cereal the bar gave you with your beer.
Liquid soap exists, but probably not in the bathroom you are in. That bar of soap sitting in a soggy tray. Pick that sucker up, cuz that’s the closest you’re getting to clean hands tonight. OK. Not the best, but they touched soap. Tough it out. It’s not going to kill you.
All you need now is to grab a paper towel and dry your… grab a paper towel and… a paper towel… seriously? One of two things, there is a cloth towel the cleanliness of which is up to you to judge, or it’s just you and the air. I don’t know how Koreans keep their pants so dry. They must have perfected the shake dry method. I share the burden of moistness with the back of my shirt or jeans.
Ladies, I know that you enjoy the sanctuary of the powder room. Not often, but on occasion there is one bathroom with a urinal and two stalls, one for “a man” and one for “a woman.” I hope you don’t need to do anything too gastric because that drunk dude using the urinal for balance, he’ll still be there and you’ll still have to pee.
The Koreans love a good bidet. I am not brave enough to use them for a few reasons: there are a surprising amount of buttons, all the buttons are in Hangul, and I don’t have faith in the cleaning staff of the public bathrooms at E-Mart to allow water up my anything. That’s right, public bidets.
The majority of the bathrooms are fine, just different. Even so, don’t be a darling and get ready to do your business where you must.