Busan Trip to my 쌍둥이 동생

Lily, I have something to tell you ….

This isn’t really a text I’m ever glad to receive, but considering that it came from a friend who’d never done anything to irk me, I was curious about what that thing might be. Seeing as all the “I did something that’s gonna cause a problem for you” possibilities weren’t on the table.

It turned out my friend Clara (with whom I celebrated our shared birthdays) had gotten an internship in Busan and would be moving there within a couple weeks. This was the middle of August, and she moved at the end of that month.

From that time we were already talking about when I’d be able to go visit her. The first week of October was a very long Chuseok holiday break from work, and although Clara’s popularity and family obligations took up most of her week, I was able to capture three days to spend on the Clara Busan Tour over the holiday’s first weekend.

DAY 1

During the Chuseok holiday there are infamous traffic jams all throughout the country, so taking a bus was out of the question. I managed to book an ITX which left Seoul Station at 6.15AM on Saturday, September 30th, and snagged at KTX for the return trip on October 2nd. I’d never taken a train in Korea before, and I enjoyed the trip, besides the fact that it took 5 hours to arrive in Busan that first morning.

I’d actually begun my journey at 5.30AM on that Saturday morning, emerging from my apartment, dragging my half-empty suitcase around my street, which apparently was not a popular thoroughfare for taxis at that time (experience and hindsight now tell me that taxis were probably all engaged at that time, considering the beginning of the holiday). It took me about fifteen minutes to flag a cab, into which I practically flew, launching my suitcase on the seat next to me, and then about ten minutes to get to the station. I ran from the crosswalk into the train, and due to high adrenaline levels, immediately hoisted my suitcase into overhead storage and then just sat in my seat for ten minutes, not thinking clearly enough to run outside the train to the convenience store on the platform to buy breakfast.

The train started off quite empty, so I was a little bit angry when a man came and sat directly next to me. His ticket number wasn’t his fault, but it seemed unbelievable that in a train car with 100 other empty seats, someone had to be sitting RIGHT next to me, as if the train service was operating out of the same kind of “let’s put Lily at a disadvantage” point of view that many of the world’s other operating systems seem to be.

Although I had brought a book with me to read, I was too distracted by the various happenings that began to unfold around me to get through even a page of the book during those 5 hours. Among the various shenanigans of other passengers were what seemed to be the attempts of the young male in the seat diagonally behind me to get me to look back at him (and when I did, after meeting my eyes for a moment, he quickly busied himself with his cellphone and ceased all other activity); the family seated a few rows in front of me, two daughters and a mother who, after forcing the man sitting next to one of her daughters to switch seats with her, forced snacks on her daughters at a rate that caused me to suspect she’d brought a whole picnic basket with her; the couple speaking very loudly a few rows behind me, out of sight but frustratingly impossible to keep out of mind…

When I arrived in Busan after that train ride I still had a bus ride ahead of me; I squeezed myself and my luggage into a seat and became gradually more and more horrified as I watched the bus fill up around me and fill up the passageways that I would need to drag myself and my luggage down to get out at Gwangan Station.

Getting out was every bit as much of a nightmare as I imagined it would be; while I was shuffling towards the back door, pushing my luggage in front of me and probably rolling over people’s feet with it, a car zoomed in front of the bus right in front of a red light. Naturally the driver slammed on his brakes and I almost fell over, instead crushing my left hip into the side of a seat next to me. The French tourists sitting there observed me quietly and then began talking about foreigner’s fashion. While I was glad to have sparked that conversation, I was more than ready to get off the bus when it finally pulled to a stop and released me.

I waited for Clara at the subway exit, and without meaning to the first thing she said when she greeted me was “you’ve lost so much weight!”

It’s true. Everyone who hasn’t seen me for a while says this as soon as they see me these days. My ex-bf/friend whom I’d meet a few days later also said “Lily, you’re looking thinner” as soon as he saw me, too. In Korean culture this is almost exclusively meant as a compliment. While I struggle to accept it as such because I lost this weight due to illness, I know that my friends don’t know that and are saying it halfway out of surprise, so I let it go.

Anyway Clara apologized to me later for being “so Korean” by doing that because she knows I don’t like it ㅋㅋㅋㅋ Which is just one of the reasons she’s such a good friend to me….

It was great to see Clara after several months. We made the first stop at her home so I could drop off my luggage, which I’d packed only half-full in order to have room for all the vintage clothing I planned to buy at the 국재시장 (International Market).

We made our first stop at a restaurant called Stone Street, where I entered into mental breakdown because of a boy problem. I cried and chattered at Clara about it for maybe two hours. Because of the emotional distress I endured at that time, I don’t remember much about the food, but I do remember that I liked it, because who doesn’t like pizza and pasta?

After eating, we made our way to the International Market. We walked slowly through the stalls, Clara documenting me documenting the things we saw.

It took us a while of wandering around to find the vintage stores. Although we’d walked by them earlier, I could only remember the general area of the stores with “vintage” on their signs. Clara told me that the thing I do to Korean signs—glaze over the words I don’t instantly recognize—she does with English signs, so she hadn’t even noticed the English words “vintage” plastered all over the storefronts. When we finally found the stores, Clara bought a pink winter coat after deciding to replace the gaudy, faux-gold button at the neck. I find this is usually the problem with vintage clothing. I like everything else about it, but the buttons are ugly. Thankfully buttons are not that difficult to replace.

IMG_5828

I also displayed my decided lack of talent for photography by taking this photo below. Clara took one look at it and gave me an angry expression. I told her she had to be the trip photographer from now on, although I probably didn’t have to even say it.

IMG_5830

We walked around a lot of shops. I tried on some hats and picked up things and walked around with them before putting them back. So in the end, I didn’t exit the International Market with any vintage clothes, but Clara did take some great photos of things for me.

Including… us~!

IMG_5993

After fighting our way through crowds to eat 씨앗 호떡 (sshi-aht ho-ddeok), pancakes filled with sugar syrup and sunflower seeds, we flagged down a taxi to take to the Gamcheon Culture Village (감천문화마을).

It was dark by the time we reached the village, but the lights from the houses shining on the hill were very picturesque. Much more so than ME, but that didn’t stop Clara from shooting away as if I looked like a model.

She kept saying “show these to your dad, please, to prove I’m taking care of you.”

Even though I’m older, sometimes it feels like Clara is the true 언니.

We took some photos together in the 인생네컷 photo booth which is very popular in Korea these days. Although we failed our first attempt, Clara described our second shot as a four-frame transformation “from mug-shot to cutie.”

Clara explained to me that a “moon village” is a village built on a hill, with houses close together and very steep inclines leading to them. Usually poorer people lived in these villages because of the extremely high location, so high it was close to the moon. I experienced some of these steep hills and climbing because we had to get to the bus stop that would put us on the town bus which would take us to the main bus we could use to get to Clara’s home near Gwangalli. We walked down and then up for maybe 15 minutes. At one point Clara hailed a passing old man and asked him how long it would take to go to the elementary school where the bus stop was. He said we still had a ways to go. That’s when we started walking backward up the hill.

One thing I would like to impart to the reader is the absolutely absurd, crazy, and frightening experience of riding in a Busan bus. This bus driver was careening down the mountain, flying past bus stops, winding through the tight squeezing corners with what appeared to me to be a kind of contented disregard for the fear of death he was incurring in the single foreigner in the backseat.

IMG_5852
we’re tired from our walk up the hill and very scared bc the bus driver is wild

However, as you may have guessed, I survived that “Mr. Toad’s wild ride” (which is what my mom always used to call being driven around by my dad, but I’ve found out that that is not true). For dinner, Clara found a restaurant which had a vegetarian burger, and what was even better is it was at Gwangalli beach.

광안대교 (Gwangan Bridge) is a famous bridge, and I still don’t know exactly why. But it looks good in photos. And knowing Koreans’ borderline-obsessive worship of beauty, that could actually be the reason behind its fame. But I really liked the beach. My hometown is close to the beach and the small elementary/junior high that I went to was about a five minutes’ walk from the sea, so we often ran along the coast for our P.E. classes. Since my university days, whenever I was feeling particularly stressed or anxious, I would take a drive along the coast highway, windows rolled down to pull in whatever bonfire or ocean scents were out that day. Living in Seoul is great for other reasons, but something always feels peaceful when I’m near the ocean.

Gwangalli beach is clean, and although crowded, there’s enough space to walk around without feeling like you’re intruding on anybody. It’s a very picturesque landscape in both day and night. My personal photographer Clara took this as her signal to photograph me more times than I’ve ever been photographed in my whole life.

 

Processed with MOLDIV

After walking along the beach for a while, we headed to Butcher’s Burger, the place Clara had found on her self-declared mission to “find some vegetarian place or any place which can be vegetarian place.” And she, “the best proved tour guide in Busan,” completed her task with beauty and grace.

I really enjoyed the burger, although it fell apart as soon as I began to eat it. Although there were a lot of “fun” and interesting burgers to choose from, I chose the classic cheeseburger option because it had pickles on it (lol). It’s actually so difficult to find pickles in Korea, I mean Jewish-deli style sour pickles and not those weird sweet pickles that you can actually find everywhere here. The first sign that bread-and-butter pickles are weird is that they’re called bread-and-butter pickles. Why?

Anyway, I recommend this place for those of you who visit Gwangalli beach. The food was good and portion sizes were very large (as you can see). The atmosphere was so pleasant and good. We sat at the bench with a good view of the seafront and spent time people watching, wondering where all of the cute boys in Busan were.

After dinner we decided to make a wish lantern. While I wrote only a single word onto my side, Clara made a very detailed and specific wish for me on her side. You can tell by my expression what I thought about that.

Although we’d bought a couple bottles of special Busan-made soju from a convenience store on the walk home, we were both so tired that we fell asleep without drinking it at all. But I did manage to flirt with Clara’s plush bear before knocking out, which was a nice way to end the day.

 

DAY 2

While we’d been quite active during the first day, day 2 was slightly lazier and began with a trip to a vegetarian restaurant called “Vegi Narang” (베지나랑), to my obvious delight. We ordered the “bean cutlet” and “sweet and sour fake-pork,” and Clara was very impressed by the texture of this “vegetarian” food. Korean people are forever baffled by the idea of being a vegetarian, and unfailingly (to my constant chagrin) ask me if I eat only salad, then, if I’m this so-called-vegetarian-thing. But every friend who’s accompanied me to a vegetarian restaurant that serves fake meat is always so surprised that it tastes good, and then suddenly becomes very interested in trying more vegetarian food in the future. I consider this to be an instance of matter over mind.

On the subway ride to a bus we would take to one of Busan’s famous temples, I received a Snapchat from my dad, which triggered a series of filtered photos, some more horrifying than others.

We finally made it to 해동용궁사 (Haedong Yonggungsa Temple), which Clara told me was one of her favorite places in Busan. While walking up to the temple, we passed a display of “띠” (ddi) statues—the Korean equivalent of Chinese Zodiac animals (but actually the same thing just with the Korean name). Because Clara and I are a year apart in age, our 띠 statues were next to each other, so we did this:

IMG_6156

Clara captioned the picture of me with my monkey as “a foreigner who knows her 띠” which, I don’t know, may make me somehow attractive.  A foreigner who knows her 띠. It has a ring to it.

IMG_6108

Clara’s photographing-rage continued as we walked around the temple. There was a place to make wishes where you could throw coins into fountains from far away, and to my surprise, my first shot made it into the lowest fountain. An old woman nearby exclaimed “who was that!” as her husband, who’d already tossed a few coins and missed, swung around to look at me with what may have been dismay. I thought wow, I can’t believe I did that. Sorry my hand-eye coordination is so good that it’s putting old men to shame…

As we walked along the seaside to go back to our bus stop, we ran across the scene of the place where I almost made Clara cry. Although I’m typically extremely camera-shy, Clara’s photo-taking rampage over the course of two days had attuned me to the possibilities of where to take a photo. So I spotted a bench under a heart-shaped sculpture, but Clara didn’t see it. So I pointed it out and said to her, “let’s take a picture there!” which was the phrase that incited several minutes of expressions of disbelief, and continued references to the moment later on at random times—I can’t believe you said let’s take a picture…

We wanted to drink the soju we’d neglected the night before, so for dinner we went to a 술집 (백화료리집) that Clara told me had a 90’s Korean vibe to it. We startled the waiter by asking to omit the 곱창 from one of the popular stews; after he asked the kitchen, he reported back that it was possible to omit it, but then the dish probably wouldn’t taste good. I hear this exact same remark every single time I ever ask to take the meat out of something. But unsurprisingly, the soup was really good even without the cow intestine. Although I believe that Korean people have never tasted anything without the meat in it, they always assume and insist that the flavor that is not meat is an undelicious flavor. I invite them to try something without it and then try to tell me that again.

One of the reasons Clara chose this place is because their “signature” dish is deep-fried eggplant. It was better than I’d expected, and partly because of that I was able to down half a bottle of soju, but not without crying.

After leaving the pub Clara suddenly announced that she wanted ice cream, so we walked around through the crowded area waving 되지바 around.

Processed with MOLDIV

Clara took the following photos of me as we ascended from Gwangan station, which she had warned me was a very deep station but whose depth I underestimated until walking up this fourth set of stairs while tipsy.

DAY 3

The next morning we decided to go back to Gwangalli village to have a more traditional brunch at “Wonders” café. I ordered the brunch set sans bacon, and Clara ordered Rose risotto without shrimp. I’m not a big fan of risotto but I admit it was attractive.

The restaurant also provided an ocean view. We spent time talking there while I made eyes at the cute waiter with the startlingly low voice who’d taken our orders. Hopefully he still remembers me, the white girl who meaninglessly flirted with him mere hours before going back to Seoul…

After packing up my things and receiving some snacks from Clara for the train ride back, it was time to take the bus to Busan Station, from where I would take the KTX back to Seoul. Although I barely survived the packed-bus ride, the KTX was much more comfortable than the ITX, as it took only just over two hours to reach Seoul Station. I took a taxi back home, which was great until the taxi driver got mad at me for not having automatic debit set up on my card and tried to lecture me about saving him time by making the card into a transportation card, taking like three minutes to be all mad at me when he could have just swiped my card in the card reader and waited five whole seconds for the charge to clear…

In the half-year that I’ve known Clara now, she’s been such a big emotional support to me through my various emotional escapades, has supported my various attempts at socialization and hermitization, and has been someone I absolutely look forward to spending time with. We contact each other regularly and from the first time we met we’ve gotten along so well that we’ve called each other twins from the offset, rendering the nicknames “쌍둥이 동생” / “쌍둥이 언니” that we use often to refer to each other across social media. We’ve shared our poems with each other and consulted each other about not only languages but various situations in which we need advice or just someone to rant to. When something ridiculous happens to me I can tell her about it and she sympathizes. I feel so lucky to have run across a friendship like the one Clara has offered to me completely by chance, and I was so happy to visit her in Busan. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to take another trip to see her there during the course of her internship. Clara is a friend I respect and admire in her maturity, sense of humor, and kind heart.

클라라야 나를 만나줬고 부산에서 잘 놀아줬고 항상 소중한 동생으로 내 힘든점들을 다 잘 들어주고 위로도 웃음도 많이 줘서 너무 고마워 ♡

Advertisements

English-Friendly Gynecologist Recommendation (Seoul): MediFlower

**This may go without saying but if you’re shy about the female body, I would read this post with caution.**

I recently heard some horror stories about foreign women who tried to go to a gynecologist in Seoul only to have the worst experience of their lives just trying to get a Pap smear. As they were virgins, apparently the doctor got upset and refused to perform the examination for fear of breaking their hymens–which, I’m sorry, any person with a college gen-ed level of sex education knows isn’t going to happen in that situation… So now these women are afraid to go to the gynecologist, which can be dangerous and should never have to happen.

Women’s health in South Korea is not prioritized unless the woman is pregnant. I found out that my Korean-aged-37 coworker has never once been to the gynecologist in her whole life. When I asked her why, she said because she was shy to show her parts to the doctor. Since I’m pretty sure my first genital examination was after getting my period at age 13 at the pediatrist’s office, I was shocked to hear this.

I began to research on the subject and found that in general, being seen as a single woman going into the gynecologist is a cultural taboo. I can’t exactly figure out why this would be except that the general public is ill informed about what the lady doctor actually does and just automatically assumes that gynecologists only exist to help a patient during pregnancy. This is highly disturbing to me, because it means that most sexually active women aren’t even getting screened for STD’s and certainly haven’t had ultrasounds or pap smears to check out their parts before.

I originally wanted to go to the gynecologist about three months ago (early June) to talk to her about birth control; since it was my first time to start it, I wanted to talk about my specific body and what would be best for it rather than going to the pharmacist to ask for a general brand. I also had kind of figured that most pharmacists just give out the mini-pill since most of my friends who received birth control from pharmacists showed me their packets and I didn’t want that for a variety of reasons. Anyway, I began to research for an English-friendly gynecologist in the Seoul region and somehow stumbled upon MediFlower Natural Birthing Center & Gynecology Clinic near Seoul National University of Education in Seocho.

I cannot recommend this place enough. The nurses were all extremely friendly, their English is (near if not) fluent, and the doctor (Dr. Rahyun Kim) was kind, patient, and informative. It was the exact opposite experience that I heard other people having at the international clinic, where one’s status of sexual activity decided their right to receive examination. When I asked about birth control options to control my out-of-control PMS symptoms and period pains, she recommended one for me that’s ended up working out quite well, and although she did ask me why I didn’t just go to the pharmacy to ask for it, when I explained that I’d wanted to talk to her about my exact symptoms she was very understanding. When I went through a phase of being freaked out about every little side effect she patiently explained why my fears were unnecessary and took time to explain to me in detail the effects of birth control on the body and how it actually works, because I’d never really heard it in detail before.

Additionally, recently I got a UTI/bladder infection that lasted for a long time so I was on some strong antibiotics given to me by the (male) urologist I’d decided to visit because his office is close to my school. As many of you women would be able to guess, I developed a yeast infection from the antibiotics and although I told my male doctor this, he neglected to provide me treatment for it. So I went back to Seocho and after about .2 seconds of inspecting my lady parts the doctor said calmly “I think you have a yeast infection,” inserted a vaginal tablet, wrote me a prescription for some topical cream and gave me a sympathetic smile as I ranted about the fact that the male urologist had just ignored me when I told him about it. I’d been in so much pain and discomfort that just hearing her confirm my suspicions (I’d never had a yeast infection before) relieved me so much I almost cried.

And because that bladder infection was quite persistent and I was on antibiotics for about a week after receiving that treatment, the yeast infection has come back and I have to go back there…but knowing I have somewhere to be listened to, cared about, and helped gives me a peace of mind; and after hearing about those other women’s horrible experiences, it makes me grateful that Mediflower exists and is easy to access.

No matter what kind of problem you’re having, if it concerns your “woman parts” I wholly recommend you search out MediFlower. They’re also open on Saturdays until 3PM for those of you who can’t make it there during the week.

Link to English site: http://mediflower.co.kr/eng/

Link to English-Speaking Staff page: http://mediflower.co.kr/eng/eng-staff/

Hours: http://mediflower.co.kr/eng/hours/

FAQ (insurance, IUD, what to bring the first time): http://mediflower.co.kr/eng/faq/#tab-id-1

Directions (from within Seoul): Take line 2 (Green) or line 3 (orange) to Gyo-dae Station (교대역). Also called “Seoul National University of Education” Station. Take exit 14 or 13 and walk straight for about 3 minutes. You’ll see a sign for the center in a building on the left. It’s on the second floor of a building called “Lotte Castle Medici.”

Address: 06634, 2nd Floor Lotte Castle Medici, 110 Seochojungang-Ro, Seocho-Gu, Seoul, South Korea (서울시 서초구 서초중앙로 110 롯데캐슬메디치 2층)

원주여행 / Wonju Trip

A friend I met through a language exchange app lives in Wonju, which is located in Gangwondo, a giant province which spreads from the eastern border of Gyeonggi-do to the East Sea. He came to visit me in Seoul last weekend, so it was my turn to visit him out there for a daytrip this weekend.

The bus ride was relatively short, about an hour and a half, and the ticket was only about 7,000 won. We spent Sunday driving around, eating lunch, and going to a cafe with a really nice view of the city.

It was nice to get some fresh air. Whenever I see nature in Korea, I realize that I hadn’t realized I needed a break from the city hustle and relentless stacks of people and buildings. I love Seoul, its busyness, its many cultural offerings, its shopping, its food, music, cafes, transportation… But as a California native, nature is part of my constitution. Going into nature feels comfortable, like I can breathe a little deeper than I could before. The cafe we visited was on a mountain. As we began the ascent, I kept exclaiming “green!” because it was lush, verdant, and bright green like you can really only see in Spring in punctuated, organized scenery in Seoul. Geongu thought that was funny, but I couldn’t help it.

When we were sitting on the rooftop of the cafe looking out over the view of the whole city, nestled into the mountains, with the gray cotton wool clouds descending into the stacks of apartment complexes, everything looking kind of like it belonged there that way, a breeze was blowing and I found myself almost crying. I refrained from tears for the sake of Geongu. I’m pretty sure it’s distressing to see a new friend cry the second time you meet her.

This trip also made me realize that I’m slowly getting better at conversing in Korean. I’m slowly becoming more confident and speaking even if I’m not sure how to end the sentence, which was something I was absolutely incapable of even six months ago. I wouldn’t even be able to say the beginning of a sentence because I knew I couldn’t finish it. These days I’m picking up speech patterns and intonation and repeating them. I often make mistakes and am aware of it, but there’s a comfortableness that’s arisen out of my willingness to try to say what I want to say, and this often gives rise in turn to the occasional outburst of English vocabulary that most Koreans are too shy to display. While meeting people like Geongu who speak little to no English but have been forced by the education to memorize words, I notice in them an increasing effort to use their known vocabulary within the familiar context of a Korean sentence structure.

Wonju is a place I’d like to visit again, if only to go back to that rooftop on the cafe.

Laptop Story

As most of you are probably aware, I spilled water on my laptop in June which was just one of a string of traumatizing events which I detailed in other posts. At the time I was recovering from a string of anxiety attacks brought on by the sudden disappearance of a guy whom I’d been seeing, which amounted to betrayal in my somewhat innocent (or rather, up to then, lucky) experience with men. As I was struggling with sadness, anger, and disbelief, I spent most of my free time watching the few palatable shows available to me on Netflix in this are of the world, and I ended up trying out the Anne of Green Gables remake at that time. It was part-way through the first episode that it happened—my 2L water bottle fell over, taking a bowl of instant ramen with it, onto the keyboard portion of my laptop. The power immediately cut and although I sopped up what I could, what had been done had been done. The next night I took it to an authorized Apple repair center in Myeongdong, where they spoke English well enough for me to understand perfectly that the repair costs for this particular strain of damage would amount to 1.2 million won as the base charge, with other possible charges for other “surprise” repairs that they couldn’t anticipate now. They said I needed to replace the logic board and keyboard component. If you don’t know your won to USD conversion rates, that’s basically a $1000(+) repair.

I went home feeling conflicted. I wanted to be angry and upset, but the logical part of my brain wouldn’t allow that: every time I came close to feeling something like frustration it turned into resignation, because I knew it was my fault. I’d made a mistake and this was the price.

Over what would turn out to be a very long and comically complicated process, I ended up sending the laptop to my dad in California. His company has branches in Seoul, so rather than try to ship via Fed Ex for $200+ I traipsed down to Guro-gu, handed off the laptop to a complete stranger who had agreed to help me send it via company shipment to my father’s company branch in California, and paid $0.

In the end the laptop didn’t end up getting shipped with the company shipment at all. A manager from my father’s branch who happened to know the situation went to Seoul on business, and met the guy I left my laptop with. The laptop exchanged hands, and when the manager went back to the States he acted as courier. This all happened in kind of secret, with no updates from the Seoul guy or the CA branch manager, so when the manager suddenly appeared one day bearing the laptop, it was a total what…? moment for my dad, which continued for him after he opened it to see that I’d used clothing for packing material (what’s a girl with an excess of clothes and no idea where to buy bubble wrap to do…?).

After that it gets weirder. I don’t want to go into details but I ended up not paying ANYTHING NEAR $1000 for the repair. Not anything near it. I found that out on my birthday, which was the best gift I could have received. Hearing that the laptop’s logic board, keyboard component and battery had been replaced at NOTHING near the estimated cost.

The problem was now getting it back to me in Seoul. It took a long time to try to figure out how to send it (valuable object, insurance, customs fees, etc) and in the end Dad ended up shipping it via USPS. USPS “returned” it to him because there was a lithium battery STICKER on the box (not because of the actual battery). But to find out why it was returned and even exactly WHERE it was returned took over an hour on the phone with the post office and even when he got ahold of them, they were all confused as to what happened too. He ended up having it re-shipped and escalating the case to the point where he might even receive a refund for the shipping cost. I’m not saying that would make all of this free… but…. maybe I am.

The laptop reached the Incheon Airport Customs on Saturday. I know this because they sent me a mysterious text at that time. It told me the package had arrived and I had to fill out a request for it to be processed. There was a link to the customs website, but no directions on how to even find the application on the site and search though I did, I couldn’t find it. I gave up at the time (it was Saturday) and decided to ask my coteacher for help when I got to work on Monday.

So when I asked her for help, even she couldn’t figure out what to do. We spent a day trying to figure it out between class preparation and somehow made it until Wednesday before there was time to start calling people. First we tried calling the number the text had come from. But they said it wasn’t the right number to call in this case and gave us another number. After calling that number my coteacher was able to find the form online and help me fill it out. We submitted it and I got a text the next day telling me that I could receive my package within a day or two. Which confused me.

Because this whole time I’d been expecting to get an invoice for the customs tax and suddenly there was no word about it… During this time the mailman had also been attempting to deliver a “letter” from the international mail center during the middle of the day to my home (which apparently I had to receive in person) so I also had to have my coteacher call him and explain that I was at work at 12.30PM on every week day, and to change the delivery address to the school…

So by the time I get the letter, it’s Friday at lunch time. The mailman comes to find me in my office and I have a proudly flawless conversation with him in Korean, open the letter, and see that it’s a paper copy of the exact same application I already filled out online the day before… no sign of a bill anywhere.

Then I get a call around 3PM from the mailman who’s delivering a package. I’ve ordered a pair of pants online so I assume that’s what he’s calling about since he texted me earlier to tell me he’d be delivering it that day. I ask him to leave the package outside the house (which they usually do) and think no more of it until I get home and discover that he not only delivered the pants but also the laptop.

I can see that the box has been opened and resealed by customs because of the re-packaging tape and I can barely even believe that the laptop will be in there, so I’m nervous until the second I see it and pull it out of the box and confirm it’s mine and it’s working. By this time it’s been over two months since the water / ramen accident in the first place.”

As a writer, I depend on my computer. All of my story notes and half-written poems are in here and before I didn’t have it I never even thought twice about the ability to look back on all of that while I was trying to make new writing. But not having it, I would be walking on the street and suddenly have inspiration for a scene from the novel I’ve been writing for five years and then realize that I couldn’t write it into the never-ending Scrivener file and then I’d just store the inspiration away in my mental file. Luckily I often remember story ideas more than other things I file away, so I’ve been able to write a rough outline of that scene already, and I’ve only had the laptop back for just over two days.

While FaceTiming with Dad about this, how nice it would be to get the laptop back and not have to worry about it anymore and the absolute fiasco that went into getting it back to me, he paused and said “and DON’T—”

He didn’t even have to finish. “I know,” I said, ashamed. “I won’t.”

채식주의자 도대체 뭐예요

채식주의자 종류

  • 비건: 고기, 해산물, 유제품, 계란, 동물성 식품을 전혀 안 먹는 (김치도 안 먹는 그 만큼 정도로) 사람. 동물성 제품도 (예: 가죽, 콜라겐, 등) 절데 사용하지 않음.

 

  • 베지테리언: 고기, 해산물, 동물성 식품을 먹지 않는 사람. 계란, 유제품을 먹을 수도 있음. 동물성 제품은 가끔씩만 사용하고 필요할 때는 신경 많이 써요.

 

  • 페스카테리언 (pescatarian): 베지테리언과의 차이점은 해산물을 먹는거에요.

 

Continue reading

Birthday

My friend Clara and I share a birthday weekend, which is something we discovered when we first met and which was just one thing on a list of similarities which we would discover was actually quite long, lending a slightly spooky vibe to the already-rainy and grey June afternoon on which we first met.

We’d been “instagram friends” since at least April, but between our schedules it’d taken quite a while to meet in person. But within a few hours of having met outside Hapjeong station, I was telling her things about my past and my current experience that not even some of my good friends know, as well as my plans to get a tattoo soon (and what it would mean) and my desire to get the same cartilage piercing she has in her right ear.

We kept in touch regularly after that and when I told her that my plans to travel with another friend over our birthday weekend had fallen through, we decided to do something together.

So on Saturday the 15th, which was my birthday, we met at Jongno 3-ga station to go explore 익선동 (Ikseondong), a neighborhood of tiny streets, cute cafes, and a very “Korean” style which Clara told me came from the fact that they’d modeled the neighborhood based on the typical neighborhood in Seoul during the 1960’s.

We ate a late lunch and went to a cafe where I got tipsy on Sangria; then we walked to 인사동 (Insadong), passed through and ended up in 서촌, where Clara found a cute pub (칼리가리박사의 밀실) and we got another drink, which completed my journey into tipsyland. I’d told Clara before that I wanted a cake so she said let’s pretend the pizza is cake and that sounded like a good idea to me. I forget exact details of what we talked about but remember a few things that were said, such as Clara saying this about celery after I told her one of the only foods I can’t eat is tomatoes: “the smell is so scary, and it’s not cooked so I feel like a rabbit.”

We joked that day about “a quarter of a century” and I explained the meaning; there’s a different phrase in Korean, meaning “half of fifty” (반오십). While I’m really a year older than her (almost exactly), depending on how you look at it we’re both twenty-five.

Since I was born in 1992, counting by international standards, I’ve just turned 25 this past week, but in Korea I’ve been 26 since January 1st. Since Clara was born in 1993, she just turned 24 this past week, but in Korea she’s been 25 since January 1st. It took me a good few months of repeatedly asking and frowning at what I took to be incomprehensible explanations before I fully understood the system of Korean age. And it was a total aha! moment when it happened. I still remember the feeling.

Anyway, we joked about it. I went back in time a year so we were both 25.

The next day, Sunday (16th) was Clara’s birthday so we made plans to meet for dinner and drinks in Hongdae. We met outside the station at 6; she’d brought her friend since middle school Chan Woo with her and told me that another friend would join us around 9. We went to a rooftop bar (루프탑 720) and suffered the humidity–it took me until well through my giant mojito to loosen up enough to talk much. We moved to a place I knew for makgeolli and jeon (막걸리 싸롱) and spent a few hours there drinking enough makgeolli to get me a bit drunk before Reina joined. I’d heard a bit about her from Clara because Clara told me that Reina and I were similar and that she’d told Reina about me even before we’d first met, so I’d been quite curious to finally meet her. By the time she arrived I was already a little drunk so I remember staring at her a little bit, something that I wouldn’t have done had I been sober… Anyway although I was already full and Clara said she was too, we headed out for a third round and ended up at a place called 치즈오타쿠김철수 (Kim Chulsoo the Cheese Nerd [?]) where we ordered a giant platter of various things and the inevitable soju.

Because I had to work the next day and I’d already told them I couldn’t drink soju well, they didn’t make me participate, but I was very shocked when I saw the way to make somek. I had imagined something that was more beer (because who wouldn’t imagine that) and didn’t process the meaning when Clara said it was a ratio of 9:1 in favor of soju, and I probably wouldn’t have processed that even if I weren’t already drunk. But when I saw them pour the drinks even looking at the amount of soju in the cups made me feel ill… she hadn’t been exaggerating. I would venture to say that it had even been 95% soju. They poured me a glass of beer instead and said it was a one-shot so I did it in one-shot too, watching in horror as the other three downed their drinks with all the appearance of drinking a glass of water. Only Reina coughed when she finished hers, the way I do after a single shot. As Clara had predicted… culture shock.

We played drinking games that I invariably could not play well–for example, the one where you have to try to flick the twisted part off the soju cap, I could barely muster any strength at all to flick it and almost missed once, and Chan Woo, being on my left which would make me the one who had to drink if he flicked it off, would barely touch the thing before passing it on, having taken pity on me, I guess. (Thank you.) Every time the cap would come to me Clara would beg me to do well–please, Lily… 정신 차려!– but I couldn’t help it. I was weakened by alcohol. Also, by the fact that I am weak.

At some point Clara and I went to the bathroom together and when we returned to the table, everyone was gone. Reina came back after some time–she’d been on the phone outside–and some time later–time is all really difficult to track in memory, as I only really have flashes of things and couldn’t be paid to relate a chronological series of events–Chan Woo came back with a little cake/pie whose candles were already lit. This brought on a half-rendition of the Korean “happy birthday” song and a long series of photos of which I will post a couple below.

I couldn’t tell you at what time we left–we spent enough time there to have a couple more rounds of drinks–but I remember getting home around 1.30AM and not much after getting home. Although a couple months ago I couldn’t have imagined that I’d spend my birthday weekend this way it was a really nice way to meet new friends and mark the occasion.