Ok, so it's been two+ months, right? This email is long overdue since it mostly covers October. Furthermore, it's obscenely long. Consider it gross overcompensation...

In the last few weeks, Seoul has really started to feel like home and that's not entirely positive. I've once again gotten into a work-home rut! I'm trying to think of some inexpensive hobbies to take up. For one thing I'd like to hang out with more Koreans since I'm like, you know, in Korea. Secondly, I'm quite prone to winter depression and I need to stay active.

Since my last email, I had my first "back to America" farewell, endured a noisy parade outside my apt window, went hiking (halfway) up a mountain, was 'interviewed' by some college kids in a bookstore, went to a hip-hop dance battle, my first ever runway show, my first K-pop concert (Epik High) and endured my first Cold War era emergency drill. Those are just the interesting things. Repeatedly sitting on the subway for WAY too long and occasionally taking the wrong bus don't really warrant discussion and hyperlinks...

A recent unfortunate discovery is that being a foreign girl in Seoul is a bit like being the one French exchange chick in high school...having an accent and being from the 'land of love' aren't necessarily the most positive things...

On a more worthy topic, at the moment I feel pulled between two churches. The one, Jubilee, is a bit more my speed---high emphasis on the arts, modern music, lots of singles--the other, Seoul International Baptist Church, has more families, a bit of an older, more settled crowd, and a smaller congregation. The main attraction is that several girls my age I've become friends with go there and a couple they know usually has them over for lunch after service. (The value of home-cooked American food cannot be underestimated due to my present circumstances!)

Bactracking on other things, the parade outside my window was for the holiday where a bear and a tiger in a cave created Korea. (No, I don't know either.) I'm not so much into details but it's like the 4th of July sans fireworks and wonderfully noisy instruments. There's a park down my street where they had performances and activities for kids. They also had scarecrows on display, some of which were...scary.

I was co-opted in to hiking by a coworker who suggested that several of us go "walking" around the Blue House (where the president lives). 'How lovely,' I thought. 'A little sightseeing!' If I were asked the same thing this month, I would have known better. Hiking is Korea's national pastime! So, "walking" actually turned out to be hiking and those of you who know me well know I'm not usually up for such things. Overall it was alright. I made it...most of the way. One of my coworkers is absolutely enamored with mountains--I'm an ocean girl myself--and after getting to what I thought was the top, she asked us if we wanted to keep going. I kid you not, when she pointed out the rest of the trail, it looked like a left-over portion of the Great Wall of China! Part of the area is made up of old military stations. (We could hear the soldiers training and saw a few on our way back down.) I definitely had to pass on that one. Just looking at it made me tired!

The bookstore interview was something I had read about before getting to Korea. Apparently, some professors assign their students an "Interview a Foreigner" assignment and the most 'foreign' looking foreigner wins. :) My (white) friend Nicole and I got interviewed at one of the bookstores in town and within 5 minutes ran into three Korean Americans we knew who had obviously slipped under the radar...

One thing a lot of people don't know about Korea is how much they LOVE hip-hop. I mean Americans love hip-hop. If you were unawares, before I left the States there was a promo on The Golf Channel that used hip-hop and it wasn't even featuring Tiger Woods. ;) Still, Koreans don't have any particular reason to love hip-hop...but they do. As I've been told, there's a hip-hop dance battle happening somewhere in Seoul every weekend. I randomly found out about one through one of the other 400-some English teachers that came this semester. We had only been in town 4 weeks and he was already in the finals for a competition! What surprised me most is how many girls were in the contest. Unfortunately for them, they didn't do it like in the States and have a separate women's category and the judges seemed crazy biased for the guys' style. The judges didn't seem particularly interested in showmanship either. Heck, the judges were whack. Anyways, I posted a few low-quality videos on vimeo that I was able to take with my camera.

So, onto my brush with the fashion world...much like many other major metros, Seoul has its own fashion week. I know, I know. You haven't heard of it but that's what makes it so pleasantly special and private, ok? I had it into my head to do something totally different and decided to head down to a show since the tickets were $7. (Seriously?) I had chosen the one designer I wanted to see and planned to head out after visiting the Baptist church. After hearing about it, one of my friends decided she'd like to come to. Great.

So there we are on the subway, riding an hour across town to see a runway show, something neither of us had ever done. We finally get to the venue, see all the people milling about, know that it's 15 minutes until showtime and go inside to find tickets. When we get inside, we see this tremendous line and have no idea where to go. After asking the big bouncer looking guy, "Where do we buy tickets?" he ushered us into the shortest line leading to the show area. So we stand there...for about 30 seconds. Just long enough for me to take in that the people standing in front of us and filing past us look like fashion insiders, those assistant-y types...Devil Wears Prada and all that. As flattering as it was to be mistaken for VIPs, I decided that rather than get punked by the even bigger bouncer at the head of the line, I would make a spring for assistance. I found a really helpful girl in the press area who spoke English. She lead us to the ticket window only to find out there were NO tickets left. None. Like, wait, did I really ride an hour on the crappy subway to hear you say that? Naturally, I couldn't let that lie. I was too tired not to be American in that moment. "Are you sure? Is there anything you can do? This is the only show I wanted to see! There's only two of us. Can we just stand in the back?"

At that moment, a dapper looking man in my peripheral vision stepped forward, pulling a small white envelope from his blazer pocket. "I have two tickets," he said as he flicked his cigarette and stamped it on the ground. I'm sure my eyes lit up like a kid. He handed us two tickets with shiny gold "VIP" seals and introduced himself as Julien from Fashion Inside magazine and asked how we knew about JuYoung's designs. Very, very cool. It was another one of those, "Thanks God!" thumbs up moments.

I'll spare details about the designs or the seating arrangements but I will mention that I saw one of my favorite Korean celebrities...Crown J! So, back to the "Korea loves hip-hop theme," Crown J is somewhat of a 'Fresh Prince' in the hip-hop world out here...highly visible but not nearly as hardcore as he plays around to be. He's one of the celebs on a reality show out here and also the spokesman for FUBU Korea. (Why are you laughing? Yes, people still wear FUBU...in Asia. Don't hate.)

In other music events, I went to check out Epik High's performance with some friends. They're more pop-hop than hip-hop but they put out some interesting compositions. The front man Tablo has a master's in creative writing from Stanford so that's always been a point of fascination for me. That, and the fact that he looks like a 12-year-old boy when he's 28. The show was good but I have no additional plans to spend wee hours of the morning in a hip-hop club as one of two black girls when all the boys have had a bit too much 'liquid-courage.' *Annoying silliness ensues...*

Last but not least, this letter would not be complete without mentioning the emergency drill. As it is, we always forget that Korea is in a cold war of sorts. That being the case, the threat of attack is always immanent. Now, during the course of my one week orientation, they told us all sorts of useful things about Korea like the whole bit with separating the trash, etc. but no one, not a single, solitary soul mentioned the emergency drills! For the love of God, they happen every month! It might be nice to know that before you're out walking the street by yourself one afternoon and hear tornado sirens---at least that's what I thought they were---going off!

So there I am, on my way to find Costco (yep, that one) when I hear the sirens and an announcement. I'm not one to panic easily. I look around and all my Korean compatriots are going about their merry way, so I do the same. Then I get to an intersection and notice a few workers in neon yellow jackets holding up traffic. A few folks have stopped on the sidewalk to look at the spectacle. "Hmm, interesting," I thought and kept parlaying down the sidewalk. I was doing perfectly well until I tried to pass one of the workers...a middle-aged woman who appeared horrified that I was walking down the street so nonchalantly. She said something then ushered me into an open doorway with the 'grandmother arm prod/shove'---if you've been here, you know what I'm talking about---and I was surprised to find several other 'victims' already standing inside. It wasn't until a few weeks later that I remembered to ask my coworkers what all the fuss was about and they told me that this was a monthly occurrence. The reason I hadn't had this exciting experience my first month in country was because of the Chuseok holiday. Apparently, they're set for the 15th of every month which means I'm due for another one this Saturday. *whoopdie do!*

Well, those are the highlights for the moment. I hope everyone is doing well and taking in all the uncertainty at this moment of American history in stride. I miss you guys. If you're thinking about visiting, don't think twice. Just come out! My air mattress is waiting for you. :)

Love and hugs,


Diana Ekelman said...

I love Tablo. His lyrics (in English) are actually clever and entertaining (unlike most of English-infused K-pop).

Koreans think he's too proud. They are not generally fans. :)

Like your blog. Good luck to you with everything.

Amanda said...

They say they're monthly, but in my 23 months in Korea, I only heard the drill once...MAYBE twice.

MoJo said...

I've never heard the drill. Perhaps, it is because I live in Gyeongbuk Province. That also probably explains why I've never had any parades under my window, attended any fashion shows, or seen my beloved Epik High live. Man, I need to move to Seoul!