November 12, 2008

In Seoul with the Koreans

One of the teachers from my school really wanted to hang out with me and Sarah and have us meet her boyfriend, who spent a year at the University of Iowa in the States. Her name is Miss Han, and she always attends my teachers' English class I run on Mondays for the teachers at my school. Anyway, after planning on hanging out for a month, we finally got to go on Sunday!

We met her boyfriend outside of the Express Bus Terminal in central Seoul. It's right in the middle of the city. We hopped on a subway and met Miss Han at one of the subway stops along the way to Insadong, a pretty cool shopping district in Seoul. Lots of foreigners hang out there, and on this day, there was a ton to see. Lots of Korean performers and a few foreigner street performers. We saw this really cool outdoor shopping center, where loads of Koreans go to take pictures cuz' it's awesome. Take a look:
You can see how it's just ramps going up and up. It doesn't have specific floors to it, although it's multilevel. All the floors have a little slant to them.

Here's a picture of us there, because we're cute:As you can see, Miss Han is awesome. She bought that hat on Saturday just for us to see on Sunday.

Here's another fantastic picture:

A bunch of Koreans were taking pictures of their friends and children with these cutouts at the same time, but when Sarah got behind this one, all of them stopped to look at her. Suddenly, people started applauding. Haha, Sarah is apparently really good at fitting her face to a magazine cover. Give her a round of applause, if you please.

Miss Han's boyfriend is super nice and, since he spent a year in Iowa, he speaks English really well. He empathized with our culture shock and missing home. He said when he was in Iowa, he used to make kimchi, but his roommate would get really pissed at him for smelling up the house. He'd wrap his kimchi in multiple multiple sheets of plastic and put it in the fridge, but his roommate knew something was amiss the moment he walked in the door. I thought they would take us out for Korean food or something, but he insisted that we go out and get American food, because we must be missing it quite a lot by now. They tried to take us to Outback, but it was closed, so we went to Bennigan's instead. Oh man, it was quite possibly the most delicious meal I've had in recent memory. I got mushroom soup (Sarah, of course, got the alternative: pumpkin soup) and a fantastic monte cristo.

We all ordered our own food, and the Koreans only told us after we had gotten our gigantic plates of death that usually Koreans will only get 2 or 3 dishes for 4 people, because they like to share. I felt a little bad about this, because I know they just assumed we'd want our own entree, because we're Americans. Anyway, next time we'll know better. We were soooo stuffed when we got done, and I even took half my sandwich in a doggie bag to go. Okay, here's us at the restaurant:
Interestingly, most of the restaurants in Korea will give you a discount if you belong to a certain telecom company. Miss Han has an SK Telecom phone, so our meal was discounted 20%! Unfortunately, Sarah's phone is a Show Telecom phone, so she doesn't get quite as good discounts at places. I don't have a cellphone yet, and I might just not get one here. I haven't really needed it, because cellphones are all around, and I'm always with someone who has one.

Miss Han's boyfriend (sorry I keep refering to him this way, but I don't exactly know his name and I don't want to mess it up on here) is an electrical engineer. When he told us that, we were like, "Oh, wow!" He was really confused. He explained that a lot of people choose engineering here, because it's easier to get into university if you choose engineering as your major. He has a contract with Samsung where they pay for his school and he has promised to work for them for four years after graduating. I found that whole thing really interesting. It sounded like he picked it not because of any inherent interest in the subject, but because it's the path of least resistance to get what he wants. I wonder if lots of people in Korea don't really go to university for things that they actually like. He also explained that pretty much ALL the jobs in Korea require an English language test before you can be hired. If you don't score high enough on this test, you don't get a job: it's that simple. These tests are administered even to people at Samsung who will never use English in their job or have any contact with English speakers. The corporations and smaller companies all want employees who can speak English. "Korea is crazy for English" as so many Koreans I've talked to have put it. He showed us a whole block of buildings in Insadong devoted to teaching English. It's pretty amazing to see it.

Finally, we went to Namsang, by my request. I really wanted to see the Seoul Tower. We hopped on a bus and went up there. It's so awesome! You can see the whole city from this tower. I was interested to see that there isn't a clear "downtown" to Seoul. There isn't a cluster of big buildings anywhere. It's all sort of spread out equally across the entire space. Most of the big buildings are apartment complexes, which are incredibly common. Anyway, here are some cool pics:

Lots of young Korean people will take a lock up to the chain link fence around Seoul tower. They attach the lock to the fence and throw the key over the side. This is supposed to symbolize their everlasting love. Haha, everlast...sigh.
This is us in front of the Seoul tower!
This is a better view of the full Seoul tower from farther away. You can go up in that observatory thing, but we didn't this time. It's a breathtaking view from the base of the tower looking out across the city. If any of you come to Korea, this'll be a place to take you in Seoul for sure!


Sarah said...

Hi Sarah & John! It's Sarah Vania. Thanks, John, for telling me about the blog! It's been great to read through all your posts and relieve my own year of teaching in Korea -- I was in Kwangju. I'm so glad to see that you've found Korean friends and have had a chance to explore some of the country. Hopefully you'll get a chance to visit Chejudo, the island off the southern coast.
Eat a bowl of dulset bibimbop for me..... I still miss it....

Anonymous said...

Great to see you back at writing on your blog. We're all interested you know and check often, so it's very disappointing to find nothing new. This was great! Thanks for getting back at it!
Love you,