Highlights from the First Week

I’m not doing very well on having this correspond to real time XD;; I’ll do my best to catch up!

Wednesday
The morning I woke up sick! I went out to register for an alien registration card (ARC) after picking up my Fulbright ID from the office, and visited a faraway station to buy some necessities. 소영 (Soyoung), a Korean friend I made back in Los Angeles (we were both looking for language exchange on Craigslist) helped me out that day.

고석 (Goseok) Terminal, a sprawling subway station with endless rows of shoes! Also connected to a big department store. Unfortunately, not the kind of home shopping (dish detergent, soap dish, etc.) I was looking for!

Thursday
Going to 이마트 (Emart)! It’s a chain of big multi-level, all-purpose stores! It used to be Walmart, and then the company that owns Emart bought all the locations and localized it. I went with 세민 & 상은 (SeMin and SangEun) to 용산역 (Yongsan Station), which is connected to the Emart and also known for the humongous electronics complex nearby.

We ate 부대찌개 (budae jjigae) in one of the restaurants right next to the Emart entrance!

Budae jjigae is a Korean "stew" influenced by the war times with the American army, and it typically contains a lot of sausage-type elements, like hot dogs and spam.

I spent over half of my settling-in allowance on this trip! I was really lucky to have SangEun and SeMin with me, both were super patient and kind, going down my whole shopping list with me and trying to make sure I got the things I wanted. SeMin even took the subway back to his house so that he could pick up the car, driving back to the Emart, for me to be able to get my numerous (and heavy) purchases back home!

A big cardboard box full of goodies! Thanks for carrying this, 세민...

Different kinds of rice. This would have been hard to take back by subway...

I also got this charcoal liquid soap that can be used for dishwashing or rinsing fruits and vegetables. People hardly ever eat the skins of fruits, 상은 told me it’s because of the pesticides from having to ship and import a lot of the produce. Anyway, peeling fruit is a big part of female culture here – it’s best if you can do it in one long strip with a knife.

Friday
The day my voice was completely shot. I decided to visit Seoul National University (SNU), the place where I planned to take my first session of Korean language classes, just so I’d know the route and which building to go to. This place is a little further from everything else, you have to take the subway and then transfer to a bus, and the campus is pretty spacious with a big hill inside. I bought a mixed 만두 (mandoo), Korean dumplings, set from a shop right next to one of the two subway stations near my house. It was interesting, they seem to be pretty famous for a dumpling that’s filled with Korean BBQ type meat, so it has the charcoal grill flavor. I must say that I’ve yet to find a Korean dumpling that can match up to a Chinese one though – the consistency and texture is very different, not as juicy or meaty.

The dumplings and vitamin C drink I bought for lunch

Also had the other flavors like kimchi dumplings

This was a bit of a disappointing day. I had some confusion with transferring from the subway to the bus, but that incident with the angry bus driver was soon eclipsed by finding out that I wasn’t registered with the SNU language program at all, and that there’d be no way to get in. Most of the other programs were similar in that they’d be starting the following week and wouldn’t accept late applicants. The only program still open was at 연세 (Yonsei), where I had attended previously and which started a month later, throwing the whole timeline of my project off. Everything was all the more difficult to sort out with my lack of speaking ability – I sounded like a toad! Haven’t had to push my voice like that in a long time.

Saturday & Sunday
I spent the weekend with my friend from Rice University, Clara. She was a year below and applied to teach English in Korea through the local government-sponsored program, TaLK. She came here a month earlier and is based in 울산, but she came up with two friends, one who is Korean and whose extended family hosted them. Though we were only supposed to meet at my place for a few hours, I somehow ended up joining in on the activities!

This Korean family was so welcoming and generous. The female cousin took us out to a Chinese restaurant for dinner so that we could experience Chinese food Korean-style. Then she took us to 남산 (Namsan) Tower, a big tourist attraction and couple spot. We ended the night in pursuit of Clara’s one true love, boba/bubble tea, and found a Quickly due to the cousin’s accommodating Korean prowess (she looked it up on her iPhone).

The next morning on Sunday we prepared to say goodbye after a lavish home-cooked breakfast. Three kinds of 김밥 (kimbap – a basic Korean sushi roll, standard fillings include tuna and beef), egg salad sandwiches and of course kimchi, soup and rice.

It was really nice to see Clara, both of us actually screamed incredibly loudly at first sight of each other (my voice had mostly returned by then). Probably everyone in my apartment building heard (it’s only four floors)… it was a great weekend, a large part due to the kind family who hosted us, and I was blessed to see a familiar face much sooner than I thought I would.

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