December 29, 2009
SoKor Day 19: Gwangju to Suncheon
Yesterday's travel from Osaka to Korea and excitement of arriving in a new country and seeing old friends, as well as the several weeks of backpacking on my own had finally tired me out a little. (But just a little) :) We got up late and headed out of the hotel and to get some coffee at a place called Coffee Story. The waiter looked about 18 and had a sweatshirt on that said "San Francisco" which I thought was so funny and awesome. I said to him, "I am from there!" and pointed to the word "San Francisco" on my luggage bag. "Ohhhhhhhhh!!!!" he exclaimed, and shook my hand as if he just met a movie star. Very funny!
Across from Coffee Story was a clothing store which had another random North American-ism, a hilarious blue sweater with a Canada Maple Leaf and a Deer on it! I saw it from across the street and loved it, so we walked over to see if it was 1) not too expensive and 2) they had my size. We walked in and the guy in the store came up to me, we asked if they had it in "Large" and he looked worried. "Oh..." he said, and proceeded to measure and pat my shoulders with his hands, generally trying to size up my broadness compared to the standard South Korean male shape. "Very sorry. One size-uh fits all-uh only!" Apparently that is quite common in South Korea, body types can be so similar that some clothing stores only have one size fits all clothing, because often, it actually is one size fits all unless you're a tourist like me. So that was too bad, I was hoping to buy a Canadian sweater in Korea just to have a story to tell about it. :)
We then took off to some of the subway markets. There were sooo many fake brands there, and a lot of US obsession - lots of fake Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and J-Crew clothing. We then headed towards the bahhhssu tehrminalle to go catch a bus to Suncheon. It's SO much easier to travel when you have a travel buddy who can help. :) Lisa was particularly excited to be in a big city and was keen to go to one of the funny American chains in the bus terminal so we hit up T.G.I.Fridays! I was keen for some familiar food too, and that was a hilarious experience. It's quite funny to go to those kinds of American chain restaurants in other countries because it's an attempt at Americanism, but it's always got a very unusual or hilarious local twist (like that nearly unpronounceable "Juicy Chicken Agatougarashi" McDonalds sandwich from Japan, and Beer in a plastic cup at McDonalds in France!) T.G.I.Fridays was no exception, they gave us a "Serviceuh" - a free gift "for your service" as a thank-you for coming to eat there. It was a boy and girl coloured matching scarf with a cute character clip, and also a couple of bottles of mouth wash! So funny.
From the bus terminal we left on a bus to Suncheon and I was really interested in the scenery. There were a lot of rice paddies, layered on cliffsides. We saw a lot of bamboo groves where the bamboo had leaves, I've never seen that before. There seemed to be a lot of farming and agriculture everywhere. Lisa said that South Koreans make good use out of every piece of land they can - if there is a place to plant food to farm, it will be used!
Lisa is an old University friend who is now teaching conversational English at a school in Suncheon, South Korea. We arrived and went to Lisa's school to meet her Vice Principal. It was incredibly fascinating to see how the importance of learning English is viewed in South Korea. Lisa teaches "Grade 2" at an all-girls school, which is equivalent to Grade 11 in the US.
Lisa showed me one of the assignments she gave the students, which I was just blown away by. She wanted to get the students to think about why they were in her class, and try to get them to focus by thinking about the benefit of learning English. She had them write an assignment called "Why should I learn English?" and she showed me a few examples. I thought it was completely fascinating, and a really unique window to see inside the minds of young South Koreans. All of the answers were very interesting: "To travel (leave Korea)", "Because USA is strong", "To meet famous people." This was a very interesting insight into the Korean mindset, and the view towards the USA. When Lisa arrived, the students asked her, "Do you know famous people?". There seems to be a bit of an obsession in Korea about American culture, there are plenty of K-Pop celebrities in Korea, so why are high school students so interested in US celebrities? Tons of thoughts were flying around my head from seeing the student's ideas on paper. At Lisa's school I also learned more about English teaching in Korea, in general. There were lots of extra books, and DVDs to learn from, extracurricularly.
We then headed back to Lisa's apartment to drop off all my stuff. America's Funniest Home Videos was on TV, and Lisa said it is a very popular show because there are a lot of fat people on it (?!!) This is very funny for Koreans, apparently because there are not a whole lot of overweight people in Korea (i.e. the "one size fits all" sweatshirt in Gwangju).
We then headed off for dinner, and got some "Bebimbap". It was a big bowl of rice, red pepper sauce, cabbage, with pickled radish and kimchi on the side. Very good and very hearty! Excellent to warm you up on a cold evening. We also got some "Kimbap", which Lisa referred to as "Poor man's Sushi". It had Spam in it! SPAM?!!!!!!!! As it turns out, Spam is actually very popular in Korea. No one seemed to know why it was so popular there, but maybe because American soldiers brought it over to Korea when they were there for the Korean War? I wonder if Wikipedia knows... :)
Aside - just checked Wikipedia and here's an interesting quote:
The surfeit of Spam in both North and South Korea during the Korean War led to the establishment of the Spam kimbap (sushi roll). With no more fish or other traditional kimbap products, Spam was added to a rice roll with pickle and cucumber and wrapped in seaweed. In Australia, Korean shops sell these as "sushi rolls", as an alternative to the traditional style of Japanese sushi rolls - but without the Spam.Then, we had the best food EVER for dessert. We got these incredibly tasty street-food pancakes called "Ho dok" - so friggin' good!!!!!!!!! They are tasty pancake things with cinnamon in them. So frickin' awesome.
We then walked to one of the downtown areas and this was very interesting. There were lots of Love Motels as there were in Gwangju. Also plenty of Noraebongs (Karaoke booths) and Norae"towns" (I think those were the somewhat dodgy ones where you can pay girls to come and sing and drink with you in the Karaoke booths?!). Vending machines were similar to Japan but less frequent and had plum juice and aloe juice in them. We wandered to a store called "Morning Glory" which is a popular spot for the girls that Lisa teaches. It was a funny tween girl stuff store, with lots of school binders with poems or song lyrics printed on them, most badly translated or moderately terrible English at best. I bought some "Engrish" stickers for friends back home, and they were really weird and funny.
Back at Lisa's place, I met her hilarious cat, Mokah. This Mokah cat was so cute but it was hard to get her to come and hang out. Lisa told me an interesting story of the rescue shelter, and how Mokah's tail looked weird because previous owners tend to break a cat's tail a certain way to say that the cat is "their cat". Hearing about this really made me angry at this local practice ("How 'bout a $^&#@&$ collar?", was what I was thinking). This poor sweet cat was so nice but seemed so nervous. Lisa said she doesn't seem to like men, and also preferred foreigners. Probably because of her traumatized past! Poor little cat. I bet she was very happy to be in good care now at Lisa's place.
We then took a longer walk and got a maple bun called a "Roti". The cappucinos were very good and better than how they made them in Japan! We chatted lots more about South Korea and it was very interesting to hear Lisa's perspective on South Korea and see and hear all of these culture shock things over the past few days.
In general I get a feeling that South Korea feels that it needs an American connection for business, stability, military presence, etc. But at the same time, I get the feeling that Korea is actually quite uncomfortable with the scope of the American influence on their culture. It's very strange to see Dunkin' Donuts, T.G.I.Fridays etc, but at the same time no English signs anywhere. Also, a very few amount of people over 30 seem to speak English. It feels like they think they need US influence but they have not taken the practical steps to get there (eg English signage on Bus stops) like Japan has.
It's possible that the lack of English speaking is just generational - kids are learning English in schools now. The government/teachers seem to be pushing English learning very hard, but only recently.
The freakin' amazing Namitatsu boxer-briefs I got in Fukuoka a few days before. They have a Samurai on the back with a surfboard, fighting an octopus. Fantastic!
View from the motel
Lisa at a coffee place called "Coffee Story"
Drinking some weird tea, great times
Take a close look at the blue sweatshirt outside the "Diva" store - it's a Canadian maple leaf with a deer on the front! I wanted to buy it but we got in there and the guy patted my shoulders and shook his head, "I'm sorry", he said, "One size-uh fits all-uh!" I guess a lot of Korean people have a similar build, so they only carried one size of all their clothes!!
Random street stuff
A bread place called Paris Baguette. Advertising girl and guy on the outside wearing cutesy cat ear hats.
Sugar coated garlic bread. It was TERRIBLE. But I had to try it. I didn't have to eat the whole thing... but I did anyway :)
It is common for guys in Korea to show their love for their girlfriend by buying a HUGE teddy bear. This one was particularly expensive, about $850 USD!!!
30th Anniversary burger
Unusual fashion in the subway vendors
A common thing in South Korea is matching girlfriend-boyfriend lingerie
TGIFridays and other places often tell you where all the ingredients come from.
Rice Paddies along the way from Gwangju to Suncheon
Lisa at her school
Cool poems on the wall
"Skill to DO comes from DOING"
I took photos of people's homework :)
Toy Story 1 and 2 in Korean
Lots of books and opportunities to learn
The coolest idea ever. Lisa asked the students to do a "why did you want to learn English?" handout. Very insightful answers.
This was such a cool idea
Kimbap, the "poor man's sushi" as Lisa called it. Careful, it might have Spam in it!
Lots of tasty sides, Kimchi and pickled radish
Lisa mixing her Bebimbap, a rice and vegetable mixed bowl
Me rockin' some Bebimbap
Trying SO hard to use the impossible metal Korean chopsticks!
My first taste of Kimchi - it was good!!
A lady making some Korean street food, the "Hodok". It was so friggin' GOOD!!!!!!!!!!
Nightlife heading into town
Pretty street lights
More businesses and cars zooming by
Great lit-up archway
Vegetable and fruit stands on the side of the road
Vegetables for sale
Lisa at the "Roti" bun and coffee store
Lisa with a bunch of animals that have cute other animals on their heads
Helllooo, Copyright Infringement!
More random buildings
Diamond hotel logo was cool.
Tiny tiny laundromat, wait until you see the size of it!
Someone closing their fruit stand for the night just puts a random blanket over it and goes home!