Sunday, November 15, 2009

Green Drinks and Whitney Houston

As part of Seoul's humanitarian organization, Green Drinks, this Saturday an Dukwon Gallery hosted Korea's first screening of the environmental docu-animation The Age of Stupid. The small space was crowded with hipster ex-pats who were invited to browse the gallery's repurposed wares, made from raw material provided by a chain of thrift stores throughout Korea (similar to Oxfam). This was my first visit to Insadong, a very old and traditional neighborhood (even the Starbucks menu is Korean-only) filled with art houses and vendors selling all manner of cool things. We ate in a beautiful Korean restaurant where one of my friends gave us a lesson in Hangul number systems. I can't wait to return to Insadong during daylight for the full market and vending experience.

Next, my group and I headed to a futuristic white-washed bar called O.I. in Hongdae, where patrons remove their shoes and tiptoe along a plaster-of-paris network of water-filled trenches
to a circular private "room" consisting of floor pillows, a tree trunk table, and gold fiber fringe "walls". Apparently this place hosts a swimming party on New Year's Eve, which sounds promising. After a month of intermittently being served questionable round, neon snacks, I finally gave them a try at O.I...they tasted like Cheet-ohs cheese balls crossed with Crunchberries. After that, we headed to Mansion: formerly a museum and now a gorgeous and sprawling nightclub. It's filled with giant chandeliers, black leather circle booths, and thumping techno, which I've discovered CAN be salsa-danced to. There were 5 (count 'em) Arkansans at this point, an ever-expanding group that has dubbed itself the Arkansas Mafia, or AR in the KR. By then, my friend and I were faced with a dilemma: the subway shuts down from midnight until 5:30 AM on the weekend, so we either had to take an expensive cab ride back to Ilsan or tough it out until the trains started up again. Eckhart Tolle-style, we opted for the latter. Seoul never sleeps, so finding a way to pass the time was hardly a problem. We sweet-talked our friends into accompanying us to a noribang (karaoke room) and sang our little hearts out until the morning light. We then groggily detrained at dawn and with utmost restraint bypassed a 7 AM bulgogi burger at the all too conveniently placed McDonald's. Winter has set in and the brisk walk to my apartment confirmed my plans to evacuate to warmer climes this Christmas. So far Korean women have stalwartly abided their miniskirt urban uniforms and bets have been hedged regarding through just how few degrees Celsius this can last.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Today is my first experience with Korea’s excessive holidays (and of all things to overdo, I think they’ve got the right idea). For the past week I’ve noticed all the bakeries have stocked sweet breadstick-shaped pastries dipped in chocolate, often with colorful sprinkles and the words, “Because you are loved” or “I want to make you happy” on the package. I know Valentine’s and White Day aren’t for several months, so I’ve been pretty baffled. When I stopped for coffee this morning, she handed me two thin chocolate sticks and said something in Korean that sounded like, “It’s my birthday!”. I mumbled ‘kamsahamnedah’ and smiled, hoping she’d understand I didn’t know the words “happy b’day” in Korean. Turns out she actually said, “It’s Peppero Day!”, a genius marketing ploy in honor of the pastries. If you lay 4 Pepperos next to each other, it looks like today’s date: 11/11. That’s really all there is to it. Thankfully, teachers are among the Peppero recipients AND we had a birthday party, so today has pretty much ruled.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Just a Moment, I Show You a Magic!

As you might imagine, Halloween in Korea is still catching on. My school put on a bangin' party, surprisingly. We combined it with our "World" class, so in addition to pumpkin bowling and face painting, we had two rooms with country-specific games. The kids have pretend passports that they present to "Immigration" when we feature a particular country. For the India room, I brought saffron and clothing from my trip this past June. We had curry and naan, wore headscarves and bindis, and danced to a Bollywood music video. I offered to print off one of my pictures from India, but my boss said the child in the photo looked sad. Editing reality. For the China room, we made shadow puppets for a theater and played with bamboo and string toys.

The trick-or-treat business was a little strange. We took them out to a nearby park and they said the magic words to teachers and parents who were holding baskets of treats. I'm curious to see if the holiday takes off and maybe in a few years they can go to actual apartments/businesses for candy.