Monday, February 28, 2011

Luncheee Time

In preparation for lunch (or lunchee as pronounced in Korean), our kindergarten students sing a song after the food has been served.

I couldn’t resist posting it here.  It’s way too adorable.

When Ryan and I don’t feel like packing something for our own lunches, we choose to eat out at one of the many nearby restaurants.

Often we dine at our local Kimbap.  These restaurants are on nearly every block and serve Korean food staples, such as ramen, bibimbap, fried rice, and donkasu

We can also grab a quick coffee and egg toast sandwich from the sweetest couple on Earth, or visit the quaint Italian joint nearby which features a decent lunch special.  A dish of Aglio Olio or Capellini Pomodoro comes with salad and bread for a bargain.  Delicious dessert and sweet coffee or tea are also included.  It's not authentic Korean (or Italian) food but it's great when we want a change.

Newer to the scene is a family owned soup restaurant.  Two women (perhaps a mother-daughter duo) happily serve up delicious kimchi, potato, or seafood soup.  Doughy uneven noodles ripped from a single sheet hearty up the salty broth.  A ceramic bowl on each table holds a spicy sauce so each diner can control the level of heat in their soup.

We don’t sing before each meal, but we do appreciate our unique and inexpensive local lunches.  Yummy, yummy food. :)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Fiesta

Last night we celebrated the end of our last full week at school.  Our first destination was Dragon Dream Cave, a traditional Korean restaurant and bar housed within a retired bomb shelter.  The atmosphere was unique and laid back, while the tofu, kimchi and pajeon were the perfect complement to the sweet homemade dong dong-ju rice wine.

Our next stop was hidden within the maze-like alleys of Seomyeon, Busan’s bustling downtown area.  The bright and noisy bar was packed with locals sipping soju and eating fresh seafood specialties.  We toasted with fruit soju, a refreshing blend of Korean liquor and pureed fruit.  We tried the concoction in both peach and kiwi flavors.  Yummmm!  Ryan also polished off a platter of spiced pork stir-fried with veggies.

Before we knew it, three am had rolled around and the joint was still hoppin.  This morning, our heads were too.  Oh, soju.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

One Year Ago Today

It's been a year since we boarded a plane to Korea.  It was an emotional day.  Memories of the goodbyes we'd said to our best friends the previous night lingered in our heads.  There was a five am wake-up, tears at the airport, unexpected costs for the insane amount of baggage we brought, and the beginning of an adventure into the unknown. 

We created this blog on our layover in Seattle, and within a week I’d written our first few posts.  Rereading them now makes me smile. 

I remember the first time we walked into our apartment, balking at its size.  Looking at the local language made us feel like ignorant children, and speaking was even more foreign.  I soon mastered Korea's main set of numbers for shopping purposes, and Ryan quickly trained himself to read Hangul, making traveling and decoding restaurant menus much easier.

In addition to the new language and living adjustments, many of the things that initially shocked us about our new home now seem mundane.

We’ve learned to dodge the scooters that fly down the sidewalk, we’re no longer grossed out by the dried fish hanging in nearly every storefront, and we rarely notice the foul smell that once had us plugging our noses on the street.  Eating kimchi regularly and being able to note the variations among restaurant recipes doesn’t seem odd to us.  Either does eating the eggs with brown shells that used to taste “funny.”  We’ve adopted the habit of smiling politely as children shout to their parents in Korean, “Look, foreigners!” and attempt to respond cheerfully to multiple English greetings of, “Hello” from unknown students as they pass us on the street.

We’ve learned to live without things that some Americans couldn’t imagine giving up.  We’ve experienced the frustrations of being unable to speak the local language, but have discovered that with some creativity sign language is universal. 

Recently I remembered my graduate school professor sharing her experience of living in Jamaica for two years.  As she recounted her travels, she told my class that living abroad changed her in ways she could pinpoint, and in ways she never could.  Ryan and I can relate to her feelings exactly.

Our move home is bittersweet.  We can’t wait to reunite with our families and friends, but are sad to leave behind the life we’ve made together here.  Our future is unknown at this point.  What we are sure of is that this past year has been an incredible adventure and an experience that we’ll never forget. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Weekend Recap

The reality that we have merely two weeks left in Korea has finally kicked in.  We sold a good number of household items this past weekend, and have begun to cross things off the: “to-do before we leave” list.

The better part of Saturday was spent at Spaland, the indulgent spa and bath-house within Shinsegae department store.  I promise there will be more details to come, and probably one last visit there before we leave!

Later that evening we headed to a co-worker’s home for a belated Valentine’s Day party.  She and another friend presented us with a delicious spread.  Homemade mac and cheese, shrimp with cilantro dip, guacamole, dill pickles, and Asian pears topped with blue cheese were some of the highlights.

The desserts were plentiful and delicious!
DIY Strawberry Shortcake

My own attempt at making something were these adorable little chocolates, which ended up speckled (overcooked chocolate?), but still tasty.

We sat around with friends, casually enjoying delicious food and wine.

After a leisurely Sunday morning we headed up a cable car to Geumjang Mountain near Bemeosa Temple.  As we waited for the vehicle to depart, we were astonished to find this image on a nearby vending machine.
UO Football vs. Stanford circa the '90s

The sunshine made the crisp wintery walk feel almost spring-like.  We really enjoyed the mini hike, (mini heart attack surrounding the previous cable car incident aside).   
Small tented restaurants on the mountain
The hikers :)

Later, I met some friends for a rather strange outing to a “cat café.”  These odd establishments charge a slightly higher than average fee for beverages.  As you sip your juice or coffee, cats roam the room looking adorable.  The two women I went with have frequented cat (and also dog) cafés in the past, and after hearing their stories, I felt like it was something I had to see for myself.
Appropriately named... 
The featured cats.  Yes, I'm serious.
We removed our shoes at the door, donned slippers and were shown to our table.  Cats pranced around, mingling with the customers.  It was quite the show.  A friendly male employee pointed out several cats stating, "danger," and showed us the scars on his hands to prove it.  
Best-dressed cat
Please note the tail... and the screen saver
Hugs ♥

Once we hit our kitty limit we headed for an Italian dinner.  After returning home I had some downtime with Ryan, who was responsibly packing our belongings into boxes.  Can you believe that two weeks from now we’ll be spending our first night in Vietnam?! 

Monday, February 14, 2011

An Unexpected V-Day Adventure

Valentine’s Day was different this year.  Of course there’s the obvious; we live in Korea.  But the oddness of today reached far further than that.

I awoke early to a sprinkle of snow and kept my fingers crossed that school would be cancelled.  The to-do list for our fast approaching trip hadn’t gotten much shorter over the weekend and I spent most of Saturday night sick with food poisoning (or something equally unpleasant).  Sleep and errands on a Monday sounded fabulous to me.  Not wanting to get my hopes up too high for a day off, I got my morning work-out in.  More snow.  I chatted with a friend from home.  It snowed harder.  Just as I got in the shower to begrudgingly start getting ready for work, Ryan got the call.  Kindergarten morning classes were off (yay!) but we’d have to wait to hear about elementary afternoon classes. 

Ryan got some to-do's out of the way and I caught up on email responses from hotels for our first few days in Vietnam.  We got the second call.  Afternoon classes were off!  With the help of our supervisor, Ryan got some information on which local hospital would have the vaccinations we needed for our upcoming trip.  After mapping out the bus route we were off.  If only it were that simple. 
the view from our balcony

What was a light blanket of snow in our neighborhood, proved to be a full on blizzard as we got closer to the hospital.  When we realized the bus wasn’t making the turn up the hill and towards our destination, we got off.  A howling wind whipped our umbrellas around us. 

With no taxis in sight, we asked for help calling a service.  No luck.  We were pointed back towards the bus stop.  After getting on the bus again, the driver informed us that buses weren’t making the trip up the hill.  We’d need to walk.  This was easier said than done.  We didn’t know exactly where we were going, and with the mix of heavy wind and snow it was hard to see too far in front of us.  With the help of a frustrated taxi driver (who refused to take us where we needed to go) and a group of police, we made it.  Then the real fun began.

After what seemed like a complete tour of the hospital we found the place we needed to be.  We were ushered around to multiple rooms and asked questions we couldn’t understand.  We were led around some more.  We were asked to wait.  We paid for the shots.  We got the shots.  Then we made the costly mistake of asking for a record of the vaccines we’d received.  The lone nurse who spoke a little English was clearly frustrated we didn’t ask for this before.  We were asked to wait again.  It was beginning to get dark and we weren’t looking forward to our trek home in the snow, but we waited.  An hour.  Finally the paperwork was presented, as was the news that we needed to pay for the records.  We struggled to understand the reasoning of a snappy doctor who argued every point we made.  No one told us we’d need to pay, we don’t need a certified copy, we’ve waited an hour!

After much haggling (and no records) we found ourselves on the street with sore arms, befuddled and freezing.  No buses.  No taxis.  Until finally, there was one!

Thank goodness for a welcoming host and delicious dinner at Green Spoon.

Happy (bizarrely hectic) Valentine’s Day honey!  I love you (and our crazy adventures) today more than ever.