(merkit hukassa)

Adventures in Korea

Tag Archives: OMG I’m lost

…and it’s kinda gay

I went to check out the gay clubs in Itaewon last Friday. Certainly, a lot of gays and very friendly atmosphere. Totally different from earlier on the day in the same area. Itaweon in daytime was super intimidating, after I’ve gotten used to the reserved Korean manner guys. Honestly, I wonder if the guys there really get lucky with the aggressive approach. Don’t try it on me, I get annoyed.

Back to the homo hill, there weren’t many girls there, and the lesbians I could count with one hand’s fingers. My friend told me there are lesbian clubs in Hongdae, but isn’t it just boring and prejudiced to separate rainbow people by gender? If I went out with my gay friends in Finland, why would we want to go to separate bars just because some of us have something hanging between our legs and some don’t? I don’t get it. Well, doesn’t matter, we had fun.

I got all happy the next day to see so many cool indie kids in Samseong,  I got a ticket from my friend Vanessa, for this band I had never heard of before, but which was very awesome. Mellow and massive and cute. Check them out: Dear Cloud (디어 클라우드). There was this coolest girl ever sitting beside me, but of course I was too shy to talk to her. By the way, again they gave out freebies. I guess they do it often here. And the concert was awesome, but way too long… more than two hours of mellow music is just a bit too much in one go.

So, by the time it was over, I was hungry and tired and since it was such a long time since I last took a bus from Gangnam, I forgot from which exit it leaves and spend a long time looking for the right bus stop, since of course Koreans can’t put the information on any maps – they just have like 12 tiny bus figures on the map but no info of which bus leaves where. And, no north arrow either, so I couldn’t even figure anything out by compass points. Of course I could have asked, but I’m from Finland, we don’t ask.

Yesterday a couple of Lotta’s friends from Finland came to Suwon and we had great time. Of course we drank excessively and today I’ve been feeling not that fresh. I ended up causing some trouble, even though I had no intention whatsoever, nor did I start it, but oh well, I got the blame since I’m older and look oh-so-manly with my new summer haircut. It was nothing serious though so I guess it’s okay now. And I’m leaving the town anyways kkkkkkkk

PS. They are opening a new store called ㅋㅋㅋ down the street. I wonder what kinda business it is?

Taiwan!

Like the good exchange students we are, of course we travel! Who would stick to just Korea when you have gone all the trouble to drag your rear to Asia.

First we were thinking of visiting a friend in Beijing, but ignorant as I was, I didn’t pay attention to Chinese visa policies before my departure from Finland – to get Chinese visa in Korea your alien registration card needs to be valid at least six months from the day you apply. So no China.

Next we wanted to do something totally random so we were looking for cheap flights to Okinawa, Mongolia and Hawaii. Turned out there are NO cheap flights to those destinations. Lotta managed to find very good deal from EVA Airlines, from Incheon to Taipei – only 250 euros per person.

In Korea all the guys have to serve in the military and do re-training every year (or every two years or whatever). They invite guys to re-training by university and major, on different dates. My class happened to be on Wednesday 4th May and my classes were canceled. Thursday 5th was Children’s day, a national holiday. I don’t have classes on Tuesdays and Mondays I only have one class. So basically I only missed Friday.

We left for Taiwan on Sunday afternoon. Shuttle bus from Suwon Hotel Castle to Incheon cost 12000 won and took 40 minutes. Normally it takes over an hour.  We had plenty of time to do stuff at the airport – like exchange money (which was a good idea since our cards didn’t always work with Taiwanese ATMs and they don’t take cards in most shops) and visit the Korean culture center. We got to Taipei airport around 10 PM and took a bus (125 tw$) to the main station.

Lotta booked us a hostel (Taiwan Mex) and it was very conveniently located – five minutes walk from the main station and the same from Zongshan station. The area is very cool – full of contemporary art. Very, very cool. On our last night me and Dara found out why, while drinking beer in front of one cool building – it was the Museum of Contemporary Art, right next to our hostel. Too bad we didn’t realize it earlier.

Taipei has a lot to do: endless temples, beaches, hot springs, night markets, and shopping.  We did mainly everything.

Taiwanese temples are amazing – and it amazes me how actively Taiwanese people practice the religion. I saw monks and nuns everywhere (and envied their comfy clothes) and all the temples were full of worshipers, incense, flowers, fruits, cats, music and color.

To be honest, we missed all the “real” beaches, but I’m not a beach person anyways. I saw the sea from the train window, and we spent one night drinking beer on the riverbank in Danshui. Lotta and Anouk went to hot springs, I was too tired and I regret it now. Read more about hot spring visit from Lotta’s blog (in Finnish).

Night markets were certainly worth experiencing. We were very lucky to have Joanne and Christina, two Taiwanese girls, as our guides in Shilin Night Market. It’s known of food, and food there was. Many, many, different kinds of foods and surprisingly large variety of vegetarian stuff too – as in everywhere in Taiwan. Gotta love Buddhism.


(Bubble tea!)

Right from our hostel starts a complex of never ending underground malls, filled with  similar stores with similar products and similar prices. Compared to Korean sales personnel, Taiwanese have the touch in sales – they don’t disturb you and stare you to death, but when you need to buy something, they can actually speak enough English to get things rolling. And their fashion is cool. The thing that bothers me in Korea is that everybody here looks exactly the same. Nobody wants to stand out. I loved the variety of body types, hairstyles, color and fashion in Taipei. Loved it. And I liked how they were open to rainbow people and I saw a lot of androgynous girls and guys, so me neither had to stick with skirts and high heels. And I loved it even more when I was able to find my size everywhere. So obviously I spent like a maniac.

We happened to walk by Mitsukoshi department store at eleven, opening time. Good thing Lotta was with us, since she had experience on Japanese department stores, so she wanted to wait and see what would happen in Taipei when they open. Whoa, creepy, creepy! The doll like women bowed simultaneously, walked like robots and opened the doors for customers, who rushed in to be greeted by all personnel, neatly dressed, bowing and bidding you welcome. Freaked me out.

Wonder what happens in Taipei 101 when they open in the morning – they only have high-high class brand shops there so I guess they have something similar too. Why I went there? Well, to access the Taipei tower you need to walk through the whole shopping mall. The bookstore is worth the visit – a crazy selection of books in English. Taipei 101 is worth a visit of course – for the cute guys working there if nothing else. And it’s a perfect spot to check how they manage traffic in Taipei – they have a lot of cars, I can tell. And scooters!

Me and Lotta didn’t want to stay in the metropolis area, so on Tuesday we took a train to Hualien (3 h), from where we took a bus to Taroko  Tourist Information Center (1h) after waiting for it first for 2 hours… So even though we left Taipei at eight, we were in Taroko at 3 PM. We randomly chose one of the trails to follow, the Shakadang trail. Here, pictures:


(Btw, it’s the local bedrock that makes the water look like that)


(Honestly, everything was like from Ghibli Animation – like the Totoro leaves here)


(Or like here – suddenly, in the middle of the jungle, we have steampunk!)

We got back to the Info Center at 5.30 PM, when the second last bus was supposed to leave. It didn’t show up, nor there were any other people around. The last bus was supposed to leave at  7 PM so we waited. And waited. Took some pictures. Waited. It became dark. Saw fireflies. It became pitch black. Saw Totoro. Heard monkeys going wild. Waited.

The bus never showed up so we started walking towards any light we could see. Luckily we run into a young (cute) guy, and pleaded HAELP! The dude had as good English skills as my Swedish skills are – understand but can’t speak. But he was helpful, and called his friend who was also very cute and very fluent in English, and a cab. With brief changing of contact information we parted ways. They stayed (they work for the National Park) and we went to the nearest station – where we waited another two hours for the last train. But no worries, Family Mart is always open, so we had food and beer and we saw a giraffe. Look:

Oh yeah, one more place we visited. Near Taipei Zoo starts the Maokong gondola, which definitely is worth riding. There are many sights on the way, but we rode all the way to the mountain to taste some tea and eat our bento.

So my advice for Taiwan travellers:

a) Go for it, it’s awesome!

b) Go for it, it’s affordable!

c) Go for it, you get by with English, effortlessly. Easier than in Korea.

d) Take your hiking gear with you, there is a lot of nature worth seeing!

e) For day trips, leave early and check the timetables from locals.

f) Buy the Easy Money card from metro stations. Public transportation is cheap and easy and with Easy Money you can also pay in convenience stores (and get a discount), rent bikes, ride the Maokong gondola and who knows what else.

g) Exchange some money beforehands. Most places don’t take cards, but you can withdraw money in convenience stores.

h) Go to tea shops – they let you taste the tea before you buy it.

i) Go to night markets – they give free samples.

j) Watch out for mosquitoes, I’m still itching!

k) Don’t be surprised by the Jpop and Kpop influence.

l) Honestly, the Traditional Crafts Market or what ever, south from main station, is not worth your visit. Or maybe it is if you want to buy expensive cheap stuff in a clinic, AC’d environment, listening to lounge music. But that was the only place I was able to find a paper umbrella :>

Am I making things up?

I just wanted to tell you one thing:

My life outside of Korea is so different I’m starting to doubt myself when I tell about it to my friends… am I making things up?

The fresh air of Gyeong-ju

The Office of International Affairs (OIA) and Ajou Global Ambassadors (A.G.A) organized us a 1 night 2 days trip to Gyeong-ju. The little I know about Gyeong-ju is that it is the spot with most historic sites. They were pretty nice, but I guess I would have enjoyed it more by myself and later in spring – and if I had researched a bit beforehand. But it was great to get away from the Seoul dust – the fresh mountain air was awesome.

The bus ride from Suwon took about 5 hours, with two stops. The highway rest areas here are pretty well equipped, nothing like the shabby gas stations in Finland. There are similarities though – in Finland we have the ABCs, here they just have more chain stores. Fast, that’s the key word.

I spent most of my time in the bus taking pictures of weird things that interest me. Like construction sites and erosion prevention. And load securing on trucks. I wonder if they have any legislation to control it. They barely do it. I have to find out how it is…the girl next door is doing her masters in transportation engineering, I have to ask her.

We spent the night in Kolon Hotel (in the middle of nowhere). They had a sauna/onsen there so me and Lotta had to try it. We only had 40 minutes, but it was worth it. Refreshing. A.G.A held a talent show at the hotel and many groups had prepared something. I have to say I liked the Indonesian dances the most. Colorful, smiling, pretty and they are good dancers too. And they are friendly. I love friendly people.

It would have been fun to do something together with A.G.A people afterwards, but we had fun with our own little group too. I guess I’m getting the first symptoms of culture shock, since I’m starting to feel a bit irritated about stupid stuff. I need to get my ass out of the dorms soon, and do it alone, or I start nagging at people who don’t deserve it.

Here are some pictures of the sights and the people (and food):

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.

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.

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.

How to apply for a Visa on drugs

Applying for Visa is hard. It’s even harder after being high on drugs for the whole week. Legal drugs, LEGAL! Good stuff nevertheless.

I got really, really sick on Monday night and the paramedics took me to the Oulu University hospital. I’ve been pretty much sedated ever since so my Visa application has taken few steps backwards. I was in no condition to form a coherent sentence, nor to fill difficult forms with too small blanks.

I finally got the papers from Ajou via Jamk on Tuesday. My dad brought them to the hospital next day but I was obviously too out there to ask for my passport and my passport pictures… and I was going under a surgery so obviously that wasn’t the day to do it. Today I got out from the hospital but didn’t still have my passport pictures with me, so I left the form-filling until I got home – where I instantly fell asleep after munching my long awaited pizza.

It was almost too late to send the forms today when my mum woke me up and told me to get to the business. I went through the forms and realized I should have asked for a Study Certificate from JAMK, so I send them an email and they promised to send it straight to the embassy. Then I realized I have two sets of forms in the envelope I got from Ajou. Hmm? Me and Lotta had been wondering where Lotta’s papers were, but the mystery was solved. They were together with my papers – addressed to my international coordinator (Lotta is majoring Tourism so another office handles her exchange).

So a priority mail to Lotta and a registered mail to the embassy with the Visa form, my passport, Letter of Acceptance and Invitation Letter from Ajou and 40 euros… and a registered return envelope so they will hopefully send me back my passport with the Visa.

They asked so many questions which make no sense to a Finn; such as: “who will pay for your trip?” – duh… me “Who will sponsor your Visa?” -duh… didn’t I just pay 40 euros for it? And then “your address in Korea” with a blank space so small my ID number wouldn’t have fit in it. I still scribbled my address-to-be there. Hope they can make something out of it.

Now imagine doing all this high on drugs. Luckily my mother was there acting as a voice of reason and toning down my illusions, which were rather… interesting – reading an urban fantasy novel on drugs wasn’t a best possible idea.

I made a mess

Oh man. I made a huge mess while I was trying to pack my stuff – just to check will it fit or do I need to re-think my high-flying plan: hand luggage only – screw check in. And I’m not talking about those cabin approved suitcases here, I’m talking about a normal high school kid’s backpack.

Yes, I do know it sounds stupid, especially for a woman. But I’m not that much of a woman. I’ve been doing fine with two sets of clothes for a month already. They are washable – clothes I mean, and I pretty much plan on getting ridiculous amounts of stupid fashion crap from Korea anyways. And yeah, it doesn’t seem desperate yet. My backpack isn’t even half-full and all my clothes and tech-stuff are in there already. Quite a bit of miscellaneous stuff is yet to be packed. It’s in the middle of the night and people are sleeping so I’m trying to keep the rustling and bustling noise level down. I’m going to publish this tomorrow after I finish packing and take a picture of what I’m taking.

NEXT DAY:

Oh my, oh my. Look at this:

sisalto

That’s all I’m gonna take with me (four pairs of shoes, including the pair I’m going to wear!) And it fit well in this:

reppu

I measured the backpack and it fit’s in the cabin regulations if I don’t pack the front pocket. And I don’t need to pack it, as everything fits well in the other two compartments. I didn’t put in my travel guides yet, but they turned out to be compact. Without the travel guides all this weights  only 8.9 kilos, which I’m happy to carry around while traveling. The weight is going to increase a bit, I still need to pack some papers and some souvenirs…

Yesterday I went to the bank to sign my credit card papers and to the pharmacy – only to hear I will get my Japanese encephalitis vaccination today. A day too late to get the second shot in time (there should be 28 days between the first and the second shot). To be honest, I regret getting that vaccination already. It’s bloody expensive 130 e per shot, two shots)  and the risk isn’t that high anyways.  I really need to be out and about every freaking weekend to make it worth it. But I went to get the shot today. Been feeling a bit dizzy afterwards, but nothing too bad. The nurse was nice and I’m sure I should know her somewhere (maybe an ex classmate from high school or something).

Still waiting for the Letter of Acceptance :S

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