(merkit hukassa)

Adventures in Korea

Monthly Archives: February 2011

BIG SHOW… and yeah the school started too

The orientation day at Ajou held in just as many PowerPoint presentations as I expected. Quite a many that is. But the information was useful and very down to earth and the lunch buffet was overwhelming and huge. Lots of vegetarian choices too! The OIA staff seems really nice and helpful and the AGA members are hard working folk. I figured out my course schedule and I have Fridays off! Yay!

Awsome lunch is awesome.
Spot the Finns

Then the main course – BIG SHOW 2011, first one of the three Big Bang concerts. Korean pop – K-pop for short – is a huge thing all over Asia, as well as among freaks particular music diggers all around the world. Big Bang has been one of the most popular groups for years – if not the most popular. It was also my first contact with K-pop so I didn’t think twice when Ryo mentioned Puu had and extra ticket (I didn’t even know it was possible to get the tickets, but Puu’s amazing). Here’s a shining example of their music (with Seagways and a tank) – GD&TOP’s 뻑이가요.

There is a straight bus from Ajou to where I was aiming, but I was too stupid to find it… and I was running late so I just took the route I knew. A long route. And crowded. And sweaty. Quite a lot of staring occurred too. But I got there on time, finally, and managed to spot Puu’s amazing pink hair in midst of thousands of screaming tiny fans. After hours of waiting we finally got to our standing area, which was pretty well located – we managed to see the guys up close, really close.
Big Bang

Every Big Bang fan.
Every Big Bang fan.

The show was big business. Thousands of screaming fans holding up their crown-shaped light sticks and chanting fan chants to every song, laser show, fireworks, Seagways, pink tank, hilarious parody fan service version (which might have been a bit gay) of popular drama Secret Garden, confetti and the amazing charisma those guys ooze. Even my hardened iceberg of a heart fluttered, and not just a little. Oh I just admit it, I was totally into it, in my moderate Finnish way. Not as much as those little ones though, they were a bit scary, but luckily so small that I could hold my place if I wanted. Nothing compared to moshpits of huge drunk neo-nazis back in Finland.

The taxi ride from Olympic Park to Hongdae was scary, but Puu said it was actually pretty good compared to average. IT WAS FREAKING SCARY. I calmed down when I got food. Really spicy tofu soup and those good side dishes they offer at BBQ places. That place’s gotta be my favorite, the staff was lovely. And I almost cried when I got back to the hostel and saw a group of good people I met last week. I was so happy to see them again and it felt like coming home. And I was only away for one night.

So I guess this is the honeymoon period of culture shock? I’ll give you pictures when I get back to dorms tomorrow.

PS. Wives, I would have bought some fan stuff for you but they sold it out hours before I got there.

PPS. For some reason everything I’ve done so far has been a bit gay… and this was supposed to be a conservative country! Or is it just me?

English and engrish

Most of the exchange students utilized local tutor organization’s pick up service from Incheon airport, but me – I wanted to be different. Such a hipster I am. So I took my T-money card and the tube to Suwon station, where (after some aimless, sweaty wandering) I found the right bus. Oh, you handy T-card, I love you. You work in Suwon too! The ride from Hongdae cost me just a bit over 2000 won and took about 3 hours- of which one hour was just me screwing up and finding myself on wrong platforms AND hopping off the bus too early. I actually had no idea where I was, but thanks to my amazing luck I just ended up at the Ajou front gate.

Here I am now. Lotta got here yesterday and she already went to home plus and bought me a pillow too. Me love you long time! The room is surprisingly cozy to be a dorm room. It is kinda… dormy, but I expected something more dirty and cold. It’s warm, Internet works, the bed is wide – so it’s perfect! Gonna hang up some posters and it’ll be great. Gives me the feeling of youth you know, the feeling of student accommodation. Party hard! (Not really, I’m too lazy to party hard. Got my share in the nineties, you youngsters you!)

The student tutors here are absolutely amazing and they work really hard to keep us happy (and from getting lost). We (a group of 60 exchange students) went to Korean BBQ and I actually managed to find something to eat. Love those guys. And their English is very good. The language I see on info-signs and “rules of the dorm” posters here is closer to Engrish though.

Tomorrow: orientation day and Big Show!

PS. Only got crappy pictures, don’t want to post then, try to live with it. I’m changing my picture blog to Picasa these days so… wait for it.

Cleavage and culture

First things first: I’m never gonna wear shoes again. I’ve got more blisters than undamaged skin on my feet.

Yesterday I met with Michael and Patrick – a German and an Austrian guy who are gonna study in Ajou – at Seoul station, just to do some sightseeing together. They are such friendly guys. I’m happy I’m able to spend some more time with them. I was a bit surprised how comfortable it was to hang out with European guys who treat you like their equal. Here I’m constantly reminded of my gender somehow. Not in a bad way, but reminded anyways.

We went to places (that I can’t pronounce) and did things (mainly walking). A group of kids wanted to take a picture with us. I hope it was because of my white hair and not my cleavage which I accidentally was showing all day long without noticing, before a guy started “secretly” videotaping me with his phone on the train. I honestly didn’t realize my top was showing that much but, oh well, I’m happy to entertain. Can’t exactly wiggle with my slender legs, can I? That’s what locals do.

The yaoi sophisticated forms of queer sexual minorities’ culture/K-pop maniacs Ryo and Puu got tickets (W35000) for the play I mentioned yesterday and thank god something more secular they were with me. I would have gotten so horribly lost without them and not done the fangirl loitering after the show – which paid off, we got to talk with the actors and they signed stuff.

The play was incredibly good. I’ve not witnessed anything like that in Finland. I’ve sensed quite a bit of gay vibes in Korean drama but it was nice to see it done seriously. Park Eun Tae is certainly a very talented actor and an amazing singer. And the guy who played Valentin, Kim Seung Dae, reminded me of my good (female) friend so much I got a bit nostalgic and home sick. I will definitely go and see more plays and musicals while I’m here – the language doesn’t matter if the acting is good. And I really recommend it (and especially this play) to everybody. (Here’s a promotional picture from the Internets)

kiss_of_the_spider_woman

Sore feet

Got lots done yesterday and a ton of blisters.

Me and this lovely French WWOOFer Luce went to get stuff done. First we hit the Nagwon Arcade to buy me the bass I’ve been talking about. The place was amazing – an endless maze of music stores.

After asking around for quite a bit I finally found a store that had few acoustic bass guitars on sale. The sales guy “Johnny” was really nice and didn’t question too much my first choice for bass being acoustic. He gave me a couple of options and, knowing nothing about basses, I purely based my decision on sound. He first gave me an offer of W400 000 (280€), but after seeing me hesitate ha dropped the price to W300 000 (210€) (case, strap and chord included), which probably still had quite a lot of air in it, but was still cheaper than stuff back home. And it’s Korean, it’s a souvenir!

Nagwon Arcade

Then we went to rent me a phone from Jongguk. It’s bloody expensive (W90000, 63€) a month, but it’s a must to have a phone here if you want to meet people. And I want to. The price is gonna go down after a month (from W3000 to W2000 /day and after a while to W1000 /day) but it’s still gonna be expensive. I hope there is a way to find a better long time deal.

Luce came here to wwoof so we went to the local office to find information. The building was the awesomest little house ever and I had my moment of serenity with their pet bunny while Luce talked with the staff. They have pretty interesting places to work at – everyone recommends Jeju-island.

WWOOF Korea

We were in the tourist district so we did some touring on our way back. Walked the Insadong-gil, went to see Jongno tower and eventually tried to get in to the Museum of Art (too expensive) and Gyeongbokgung (closed for the day), but managed to see Gwanghwamun-gate – which was impressive.

And I got a T-money card – RFID based re-loadable ticket for public transit in Seoul and surrounding areas. It saves money and think it should  be able to get me all the way to Suwon. I got pretty good instructions from one of the AGA members – should take the subway to Sadang (exit 4) and change to red bus number 7000 to Ajou Dae Hak Kyo. I’ve been talking to other exchange students and they seem pretty nice and cool.

Tonight: Kiss of the Spider Woman. Yay!

PS. This country seems to have tons of traffic officers who just stand by the large intersections in case something happens…

I accidentally tourist hell

A stream near Euljiro 3-ga

I only had one think on my shopping list when I came here – an acoustic bass. And I heard there is this place called Nakwon Arcade in Insadong. Insadong’s main street is Seoul’s souvenir hell, offering everything from traditional costumes to genuine crafts (most likely made in Thailand). When trying to locate the arcade I accidentally ended up in that whirlwind. It was kinda good though, I needed to buy chopsticks and they had plenty.

Nakwon Arcade was really hard to locate. Mostly because it wasn’t open – Sunday, who closes a mall on the best shopping day of the week? I’m going back there tomorrow, but first I need to check the store in our Subway station. One of the lodgers recommended it.

While walking around I had time to think quite a lot. Here’s what I thought:

  • It was almost +15 Celsius and they are still wearing  winter jackets.
  • The girls wear such high heels they need a boyfriend to keep them from tripping over all the time. That same boyfriend also carries their handbag – which IS NOT what men are supposed to do. Except if they share cosmetics, which might be the case here. Men here are beautiful.
  • There are maps everywhere, especially near subway stations. They don’t operate with street names, more with landmarks. Distances on maps look scary, but are in fact not that bad. Sometimes it’s easier and quicker to walk to the next subway station than try to find the right platform for your transfer train. The stations are endless. Especially Euljiro 3 -ga, never transfer there if you don’t have to.
  • Korean city layout is not meant for Finnish mind set. I would go crazy if I needed to call for directions every time I wanted to visit a new store or company. That’s what Koreans seem to do. And they use landmarks. And the little alleys seem to either not end at all or they just end where you least expect.
  • At least those parts of the city I’ve visited can’t really brag with architecture. The blocks look almost organic – this house grew to fit this place and that house there grew a bit too much…
  • Koreans can park in amazingly narrow alleys.
  • The air in Seoul is really dry and the sun is bright. My nose is full of sand and I couldn’t take decent pictures with the light today.
  • I can’t stop admiring the amount of good fashion I’ve seen by far – both men and women dress really well (and they have an expensive taste). Of course there are other country pumpkins like me, who don’t care what they’re wearing.
  • Recycling here includes blue plastic bags on the streets and cars with loudspeakers.

Also, just to be mentioned. I had the most awful “dinner” tonight, in the form of revolting cheese flavored noodles. Here’s a picture and in the picture blog there are more. yuk
I’ll also update yesterdays entry with a picture from Sisha bar gr8, first thing tomorrow. Yeah, the jet lag kicked in. I’m a mess atm.

Noraebang and free dinners

I got real home made tteokbokki  - there’s an awesome lady staying at the hostel and she makes delicious food! Tteokbokki is a sort of Korean pasta stew. There is strange, but delicious rice pasta, chili sauce, onions, spring onions and fish cake in it. (I gave my fish cakes away and tried to ignore the possibility of fish sauce in the broth.) The taste was rich and a bit hot. I was afraid it would be more spicy, but it wasn’t too bad.

I tasted Hongdae nightlife yesterday with my new-made friends from the hostel. Of course I didn’t bring my camera, who would want to take pictures of awesome margarita bongs and crazy fashion, smoke bubbles and shabby karaoke rooms?

Hongdae is, I was told, the mecca for cool kids and freaky fashion. The Americans knew how things roll here and lead us through the masses of party people. We started our night in Margarita Splash, which was a funky and colorful little store that served drinks in bong like huge bottles (15000 won). Too bad I didn’t take a picture, but I stole this from Soul Food blog.

margarita splash

Continuing to Cuccoon Noraebang – a karaoke room – to sing and to try some local alcohol beverages was a great idea. Makgeolli was pretty good, it’s milk colored rice beer and it tastes just like kotikalja but goes into your head. Soju is pretty much Koskenkorva, but made of rice. Weak vodka. The local beers, maekju, are mostly lagers and brewed from rice, so they have no bitter aftertaste and the flavor is rather weak. Easy to drink though. Maybe too easy (is what I have been thinking all day). We finalized the tour with this really funky upstairs bar with sisha and soap bubbles. (Noraebang 15000 won/hour, Sisha 18000 won, local draft beer 4000 won)

EDIT: went there next day to take a picture. A crappy picture.

gr8

Today has been almost useless, but we went to see a movie (9000 won / person) with Luce at Lotte Cinema (right next to Hongik Station). The movie, 127 hours, was based on a true story of a trekker who got stuck in a canyon and spent 127 hours trying to collect his guts to cut off his hand and escape. In which he finally succeeded. The camera work was awesome, but the speakers at the theater were really loud. Next time I will bring my earplugs.

Lotte Cinema

Notions:

  • There doesn’t seem to be any legislation controlling the opening/closing times, so you could probably greet the sunrise happily drunk.
  • You can walk with your drink on the streets
  • There seems to be no legislation controlling the amount of alcohol bars are allowed to serve per customer. I got mine with some eight or ten shots of booze.
  • They also sell drinks to-go. In plastic zip lock bags even.
  • The red light sign in the taxis indicates they’re free. That doesn’t mean they’ll take you on if you are going somewhere near.
  • The traffic is crazy.
  • The fashion is crazy too.
  • You can smoke in bars. Sometimes they have smoking cubicles, but usually not. You can also smoke on the streets, which wasn’t always allowed in Japan.
  • Korean students can have a massive drinking party at the hostel and it can dissolve in seconds. They even wash the dishes.

People, watching

It was my first “real” day in Seoul and I had no idea what to do, so I just buckled up my shoes and started walking. It was a bit before nine, chilly, a bit of snow on the ground and very few people on the streets: the rush hour was already over. There is smog everywhere and the trees are bare – everything looks delightfully boring.

Smoggy mountains

My hostel is in Hongdae, which is supposed to be the center of nightlife, live music and cool kids. Well, the cool kids were hibernating – I saw none. The University vacation might have something to do with it.  None of the shops were open, except for cafés, so I went to see the campus. It seems Korean students are allowed to draw on walls and leave nightmare based sculptures laying around. (Hongik has visual arts department, that’s why.)

More pictures in my picture blog.

I got bored when I couldn’t find a guitar store, so I took my trusted companion (Lonely Planet), and picked something randomly. I ended up on the opposite side of Seoul, in COEX Mall, which is supposed to be THE Mall here. The ticket was 1700 won – pretty good price for half an hour ride. Yes, the mall was big, but it’s hard to impress me with fashion stores.

Nevertheless, it was a perfect place for people-watching. There is an aquarium in the building too and the visiting preschool kids were just precious. Tiny charcoal eyed mini Asians with big yellow backpacks, holding hands and walking in endless rows. One of them had The Awesomest Blinking Lights in his shoes! WHOA!

Later on the place filled with dating teenagers. The boys seemed really pleased visiting hundreds of girly-girly fashion stores and endless accessory heavens. They probably paid for everything. I feel for them.

I found a good bookstore. HUGE. Loads of English books. Bought myself Survival Korean Vocabulary (by some Korean Publisher).

I ate delicious traditional Korean delicacy, New York Fries’ Veggie Works. Veggie here supposedly meant half pint of cheddar gravy. But anyways, their queue system was the greatest ever – after I placed my order, they gave me a coaster-like plastic thing, with digital number showing my place in the queue. I went to find a table and when my fries were ready the coaster started vibrating and bleeping!

I wanted to go back to the hostel, but I had to gather my guts to face the human rush hour. I sat down for a while and realized two things: 1) girls don’t smoke (publicly) 2) people stare me a lot. Funny and disturbing. The rush wasn’t that bad really, I suppose the peak was a bit later.

I think I saw a gay girl couple in the subway. I can’t be sure since girls hold hands here a lot but well, the other girl was obviously butch and the glance she gave me said “step back you foreign bitch”. The other queer part of the day were the awesome yaoi/K-pop maniac roomies, who went to see a musical with beautiful guys and a gay scene. “It’s a musical and it’s kinda gay”, is how one of them described it. I have to admit the promo pictures were dangerously divine. I’m probably going to see it with them next week – they want to see it again.

I asked the hostel owner if I could stay here for the rest of my vacation, even though the place is full. He said it’s okay as long as I don’t mind sleeping in the male dorm, which I don’t – I’m a Finn. So yay! I’m exploring Seoul very throughly and saving Pusan for spring.

If Oulu was Seoul, the airport would be in Hailuoto

AHEM! Where to start? This is going to be a long post – so much has happened in these couple of days.

I went on my excessive farewelling tour around Finland. On Monday I went to pick up my 500,000 wons and had an ISIC card made for me (12 €, Kilroy) – just in case I want to get the Korea rail pass. Helsinki in winter is violently boring and slippery.

The journey itself was very non-dramatic, so I tried to concentrate on details and feelings… but to tell about it would bore you and me to death so here’s an outline of my boring two-part series of flights.

I checked myself in on-line the night before, so all I had to do in Helsinki-Vantaa was to walk through security check, wait and queue. Amsterdam from air looked interesting and the airport was way too huge. I saw an amazing frequent flier passport checking thing, where you just inserted your personal card and proceeded through a series of serious cyber gates by fingerprint or iris scanning. The other gates were organized poorly and the Chinese were unable to comprehend.

KLM used ridiculously big boeing-something. They entertained us with a funny remote control – phone – entertainment system. I was amazed when I got the vegetarian meal I had ordered. Usually I end up starving. Not perfect though, I think I asked for vegan food but got ovo-lacto. Still better than nothing. Flight was for 10,5 hours which was enough to get frustrated on stewardesses who kept pestering us every hour. I did sleep a bit but not too well. Against my nature, I actually chatted with the lady next to me. What the heck, that lady was a gorgeous Japanese girl, who wouldn’t have?

Then I got to Seoul.

First impressions:

  • The scenery in general reminds me a tad too much of Hailuoto. With mountains. The airport is on an island.
  • The airport has a nice shuttle-train, whee!
  • I was tired, hated myself and people were staring.
  • I didn’t realize I need to fill in another landing card for immigrations, in addition to that hard-questions-on-a-tiny-piece-of-paper given me by the flight attendants. Even the Chinese grandmas knew better. (You can find the papers on the little desks at the immigration gates, don’t forget!) After that I just walked through immigrations and customs (where I handed in the other little piece paper) and out of the airport.
  • Or not exactly –  the train station is in the airport. Just follow the Airport Train -signs downstairs and through the hall.
  • There are no policemen in Helsinki-Vantaa airport. In Incheon (horribly young) policemen wield assault rifles. In Amsterdam the only weird thing was that all the shop clerk girls seemed to cover their heads with a scarf and be feminists.
  • Buying a train ticket is surprisingly easy when a nice young info-girl does it for you. A ticket from Incheon to Hongik University was a bit over 4000 won. The train was clean, and at that time rather empty, with announcements in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese. They also had very clear announcements for transfer hubs. More about trains when I know more.
  • Simple getting-there instructions can be made complicated.
  • People like to talk. Which is nice.
  • TOP is nothing. NOTHING. Compared to the guys that walk on Seoul streets. Or more like, the star style doesn’t really differ that much from the common people style – Seoul people at a glans seem really stylish. I, on the other hand, feel colorful. Were blue jeans a mistake=!=!!=????

I’m staying at Hongdae Guesthouse 2.0 Yellow Submarine, a couple of minutes walk from Hangik University station. The getting there instructions were hard to understand, so I did as advised and dropped by at the first Hongdae Guesthouse. The hostel owner Mary is a charming person: talkative and cute. I sat there for a while talking with her and the part timers and guests and then with Mary’s good instructions and a map I found my way to the second guesthouse. The price for two nights is 34200 won – thats 25 euros. Nice people, if a bit weird. The house is really warm, thanks to floor heating, and now they all think I’m some sort of arctic specialty as I walk around wearing a wife-beater.

So, from now on I have made detailed plans: gonna sleep pretty soon. Tomorrow I will do something. After that I’ll do something else.

PS. No hope for veganism at least for weeks. People were apologetic when I told them I don’t eat seafood. That seems to be the issue. I think I’ll stick with bakeries until I figure something sustainable. Oh, and the fried rice (don’t worry, it’s veggies) had fish in it :D

PPS. No pictures, suckers. I didn’t feel like it.

Leaving home

laksiaiset

(some of the farewell presents)

Whoa, dudes! I had the most amazing farewell party on Wednesday. Even the police dropped by (it’s not that anything seriously dramatic happened, the upstairs neighbor just didn’t like our mixed choir). I love my friends, even those bastards who “had something better to do”. Like work. Who works in the middle of the week, I ask ya? Anyways, thank you everybody! Now I feel like I can screw up and ruin my reputation overseas all I want, and come back like nothing happened.

This is my last night home (still a couple of nights in Finland though). I’ve been scanning the remaining documents, writing down addresses and doing things I should have done days ago. Like laundry. And packing. It feels ridiculous to pack thin shirts and sunglasses while the climate here in Yli-Ii is arctic. It’s minus 31 and getting colder. I just burned my hand with a door handle and if you’ve ever experienced minus 30 you understand why I say it burned. A freezing cold metal surface burns the skin just like hot iron. Stupid, stupid me! I wonder how the weather is in Korea right now? Should be some plus 4 degrees.

HOT NEWS:

viisumi2

(My visa arrived on Wednesday!)

Things to ponder:

  1. I’ve lost my mp3 player AND my headphones. Who was stupid enough to steal such crap? Was I wise enough to just lose them somewhere?
  2. I still haven’t made any plans for the first week – I’m thinking about the Korea Rail Pass, Pusan area and stuff, but can’t make any decisions. The least I should do is to get accommodation for the first night. Not a good idea to sleep in the park in wintertime.
  3. Tomi’s farewell party on Saturday and I should wear something red. Is plastic bag okay?
  4. DID I FORGET SOMETHING! I’m sure I did and it’s something crucial and I’m gonna die as soon as I step out of the plane. Yeah right.

Yes, thank you, I’m tired. Happy travels, me!

Wrapping things up: Goodbyes pt. 2

I’ve been doing quite a lot of miscellaneous stuff this weekend.

  • I re-packed my tough-guy backpack – with the travel guides it’s 9,4 kilos. Still alright I’d say.
  • I gave the local registry office my new address in Korea, using Finnish Post’s on-line service. I hope they’ll send me my ballot papers for the election so I can vote in Seoul!
  • I made a travel announcement to the Foreign Ministry – in case of emerging crisis in Korea.
  • I met with Lotta. We’ve only met briefly in blog meeting before – now we had time for lunch.
  • I met couple of my friends in Jyväskylä to say goodbye and enjoy (weird) good music in Lutakko. It was awsum! AWSUM.
  • I went to meet my grandma, aunt and uncle in Ähtäri (to say goodbye – obviously)
  • I also made reservation for travel currency. I’m going to pick my money up from Helsinki central railwaystation’s Forex. Hopefully 500 000 won is enough to get started – that’s about 360 euros. Won bills are so small (50 000 won is the largest bill) I’ll end up looking like a pimp daddy with my money clip. I don’t want to carry too much money with me – I’m not trustworthy! Which brings me to…
  • Got a new credit/debit card. Debit from my account, credit from dad’s. WOHOO! PARTEE! Now I need to learn my PIN. It’s *****
  • Canceled my farewell party as I misread and messed up my schedule.
  • Made plans for new party and my friend’s party. He’s off to Shanghai. Wai cool!
  • Was that all? Hope so… more to come.

Oh, I really hope my Student Visa arrives by Thursday. I need to be in Jyväskylä on Friday at noon. And I really hope I wasn’t too sedated when I sent the papers. I already realized I forgot to sign one paper… I think I need to call them tomorrow to check if everything is as should.

I’m excited and nervous and haven’t got a clue what to do on the first week! Ideas?

PS. If I changed all my money to wons I’d be a multi millionaire. Is that cool or what?

PPS. Don’t go blaming me if you don’t get any postcards! I have received so few addresses from you I start wondering if I have friends at all. Forever alone…

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