Monday, September 19, 2005

happy chuseok

even though foreigners have little reason to celebrate, i couldn't help feeling a little bit korean after this weekend. last night i went to a jjimjilbang (kind of like a day spa, open 24 hours) with alisun, rika, neesa, and pat. it was definitely a relaxing way to spend a sunday night. i'm going to explain this a little, just because i wasn't too sure what was going on in the beginning, and i'm sure there may be people who want to know the process. it cost 6,000 won, and they give you a t-shirt, shorts, and 2 towels along with a locker key. you bring your key to a locker to put your shoes in, then head upstairs to the women's or men's floor with your things. there you give your key to another desk worker and she gives you yet another key to a designated locker, where you change into said tshirt and shorts. you bring your book or whatever else you want to relax with and a towel and head to either the men's, women's, or family floor where there are different hot rooms, plus some ice rooms to cool off. there are (bamboo?) mats on the floor along with wood neck rests, and you lay there and sweat. i went into a room that was over 80 degrees celsius. boy it felt good. alternated different rooms, and tried out a foot massager (it hurts, these rod things come up and squish different parts of the bottoms of your feet, but it's really worth it) and a massaging chair (it was amazing). these machines cost money though (i think 1,000 won each), but that's pretty good considering the low cost of everything. they have a snack bar too and neesa got this amazing drink they make for you, made with vinegar and fruit, and it tastes really sweet but is really good for you to keep hydrated. we were on the family floor because pat was with us, but alisun wanted to go up to the women's floor because she was friends with a woman who worked at a little restaurant there.

so the girls went upstairs (yeah, there was a lot of nudity- we saw a woman getting that suction therapy with 2 big suction cups you know where...) and we went into the restaurant, where the woman was thrilled to see alisun, made us sit down (it was a place where you sit on the floor), and made us food. we had the usual side dishes, a really good potato soup, pajeon (green onion pancakes- soooo good), and marinated pieces of beef (not bulgogi, but close, forget the name). to top it off, everything was free- they said it was because of chuseok, but alisun says she always gets free food. the women loved having us there, they spoke english fairly well, and i got more bizarre "you look like" comments. first, i was surprised one of them told me i looked like barbie. this is the second time i've heard this now. they swear it's the face, even though the hair is different. i still disagree. a few others agreed that i look like nastassja kinski. we couldn't even remember what she looked like. when we met up with pat, he laughed at the barbie thing, and said usually they just say the first western name that comes to mind- once he got antonio banderas, and i can assure you that with short light brown curly hair and blue eyes, he is nowhere near looking like antonio banderas.

i also got tinkerbell for the second time, but this time it was from alisun, who says it's more because i look like julia roberts playing tinkerbell. i can understand that one. just funny how i get the same comments over and over.

so all in all, the jjimjilbang was very relaxing- i think that's going to become a weekly thing for me.

today i went hiking at bomun-san, a mountain really close to (it might even be in) the city. rika's church (yes, i was excited to hear she went to an international church, so i'll probably start going there) was sponsoring a trip along with some other international communities, mainly colleges and the "scientists and engineers members, international," and the city itself. the three of us were expecting just an organized hiking trip, but it turned out to be even better because we found out it is an annual traditional culture festival where they gave us free lunch along with traditional korean food, the chance to dress in hanbok and take pictures, and play traditional games. it was a nice way to give the international community something to do on a korean holiday.

the hike was awesome, it felt sooo good to get out and do something physical. it was nice going with people, but it'll be even nicer to go again not with a huge group, because at some points it felt like i was in a cattle drive, moving quite slowly up. of course, the old korean ladies don't tolerate this, and they'll push you to the side with their walking sticks to get by. they really can do whatever they want in this country. i crushed one yesterday in the elevator doors because she was slowly walking in and i tried hitting door open but accidently hit door close, and she was stuck in the middle. she didn't seem mad though because she started talking to me and patting my shoulder- didn't understand what she was saying though. i think she was just riding for fun though because she was sitting at the steps as i walked in and got up when she saw me, and didn't select a floor. i had the opposite of that a few days earlier with an old lady who was in the elevator when i got in from my floor going down. she must have selected a bunch of floors to stop on, because we kept stopping at every floor, the door would open, and then close again. not to mention the fact that these were both large ladies who stood right in the middle with their walker or cane, and don't move to the side for you to get out, you kind of have to squeeze by. and they turn and stare right at you. meanwhile i'm just staring straight ahead pretending the floor selection is the most interesting thing i've ever seen and i'm not aware of the the fact that i am the focus of a crazy korean lady. it must be nice to be old in korea, doing whatever you please.

lunch wasn't korean, unfortunately. they had mcdonald's bulgogi burgers, tuna fish sandwiches, and vegetarian sandwiches. but it was ok, because right after they started the cultural exhibits. i got to watch people make pajeon, songpyeon, and even got to hammer with a rice cake mallet, which was fun. and i was really surprised today when i decided i did, after all, enjoy these "sweets." i don't know what made my tastes change, but i actually went back for seconds! guess i'm gettin more used to it.

we also met quite a few people, including rosemary, a really nice korean girl who went to college in chicago and didn't really speak with a korean accent, may, a vietnamese student, and riitta, a student from finland. may and riita are i think both studying at kaist, and rosemary is taking the semester off and living at home.

the thing that amazed me the most about today was the fact that most of the international community was either middle eastern or asian, and everyone was speaking in english as they were meeting each other, because english really is everyone's second language. something about these people communicating in a language they may not be entirely comfortable with just dumbfounded me and made me feel, as an american, a little lazy. even riitta and may are taking classes here in english, because that's the easiest way to make sure all of the foreign students understand the courses.

i'm feeling a little lazy and tired from the day (i had to get up at 6:30 to get ready and take a bus to the church to meet everyone), so if you want to see pictures from today, just go to

thank you and have a nice chuseok.

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