Awesome Korean Adventures

Living and engineering like never before

Monthly Archives: September 2016

Out of This World

Have a good one” said the professor as the final class came to a close and the high-spirited students rushed out full of hopes and dreams. Chuseok, or Mid-Autumn Festival, they call it. Originally a major harvest festival dedicated to honouring the dead, it is nowadays more about spending time with your family and eating moon cake. In Korea, the Chuseok is a three-day holiday during which most shops and restaurants are closed. So that sucks. At least I can get breakfast from KFC.

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Lotte World is an amusement park of sorts located in Seoul. I heard Lauri and a few other were going there so I asked a Chinese friend, Jasmine, to go there with me. It was the day of Chuseok when only a few shops were open. For this day, the usually crowded Suwon was reduced to a ghost town, almost like Suonenjoki. Not that I’m complaining however, because I prefer the peace and quiet, something I miss about Finland. Being able to chat properly in the streets is a blessing. Another thing that I also miss is the Finnish national food, Turkish pizza.

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Embarrassingly enough, I made us walk for a much longer time than was needed. Noticing there was a subway station much closer to school, I felt stupid, but at least we got to Lotte World eventually in two pieces. The subway system in question was surprisingly convenient and easy to access. We only had to load a few thousand won on our student ID cards and we could just hop on a ride. Luckily, Lotte World was very close to the Jamsil station.

Most of Lotte World was inside a building spread across multiple floors with some of the bigger attractions outside of the building. On first glance the place was crowded to say the least, but it can be even worse on some days, I imagine. As a child, going there would be the best thing ever, because most of the attractions were made for smarr kids. On the lowest floor there was also an ice skating rink. As a Finnish guy I found extreme hilarity in watching Asian people try to skate.

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Then Gyro Drop happened. We waited in line for what seemed like forever. It felt like death row. The Gyro Drop was 70 meters tall and that was 70 too many for me. Unfortunately, the height limit was 190 cm, and I couldn’t think of a way to grow 4 cm quickly enough and since I didn’t want to seem like a wimp, I went anyway. After we hit the ground I wanted to crawl up and hug the earth. However, I wasn’t able to, because I was shaking, palms were sweaty, knees weak, mom’s spaghetti. So, that’s my best Mid-Autumn Festival experience so far.

Body and Seoul

Seoul trip! On our first weekend here after the orientation period ended, the Ajou buddy people arranged different kinds of teams and schedules for a sightseeing trip to Seoul. I went with Team B which is led by my overly energetic buddy Park Soo-Hwang or Dave. By the way, Asian people have these English names that, more often than not, don’t match how they look. My business & statistics professor’s English name is Ethan, but honestly, he looks more like a Charles. Regardless, Dave was nice enough to get us a bus that we could use to go around.

Gyeongbokgung, the first attraction we visited, is a royal palace from the Joseon Dynasty era built in 1395. The palace was enormous in terms of area and surrounded from all sides by huge walls. We entered through the main gate, called Gwanghwamun gate, which stood out from the rest with its double-roof, animal statues and guards with their tonnin-seteli faces. The inner area was a large open space filled with tourists taking pictures as well as young Korean students on field trips. Although they had guided tours around the place, I went looking by myself instead. There were at least two museums showing old Korean style architecture and design. Not only that, but a many other cool looking buildings that have names too hard for Finns to pronounce.

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Afterwards we walked around for a while. Close to the main gate was the statue of King Sejong, the guy who invented the Korean alphabet, hangul. In hindsight, he probably should have made different letters for both “L” and “R”, but as long as he didn’t come up with honorifics, he’s a cool guy in my book.

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For lunch we went to the populous Tongin Market. The whole place was like a narrow hallway between two streets and full of people. I think we went there at rush hour. On first glance there were a lot of stalls selling all sorts of food but also shops selling shoes and other clothes. Apparently there are many market areas similar to that in Seoul. If nothing else, it definitely seemed like a great place to get foot-and-mouth disease. Since I wasn’t super hungry anyways, I only ate a kimbap and some chicken while ignoring the fact, that it was served in a coffee mug.

Next up was the old town of Seoul, the Bukchon Hanok village, also known as hill climbing simulator. To this day my feet have nightmares of that place. It honestly felt more like a tourist trap than anything else with all the super expensive souvenirs. Overall it was quite disappointing.

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After an exhausting day, our trip concluded at Hangang Liver. The warm temperature mixed with the cool river wind made the weather feel very nice. My feet still sore, I sat around listening to a Korean artist. She was a good singer and very pretty. Later I hung out with a bunch of friendly Uzbekistani people and we ate at some burger place. It was like a poor man’s McDonald’s, which is saying a lot. Feeling instant regret, I longed for the days of unidentifiable spicy food and thought about the missed opportunity of beer & chicken. As more time passed and the sky grew ever darker, we said our goodbyes to Hangang and left for Suwon. Eventually, after 2 hours in traffic we actually got there. Next time I’ll go with a bike.

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Campus Life Chose Me

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Everyone probably knows that Asian, and Korean food especially, is very spicy. Well… knowing it isn’t going to help much, which I soon learned. The first place we went to eat was the cafeteria that, luckily enough, is very close to the dormitory. Good thing they have forks and spoons around here, although I’ve yet to see a knife, because I would starve to death in a day with only chopsticks. I’ve been trying to self-learn the technique using two wooden ones, but it’s completely different in practice and I just end up looking like idiot.

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On the cafeteria entrance is a glass showcase where you can see the different kinds of meals available on that day. Usually there at least two, a Korean meal and a western meal ranging from French to Hawaiian, but sometimes even four distinct ones. The international meals include meat, pasta etc. but they usually have rice and other Korean stuff in them as well. Korean food on the other hand is usually a bunch of unidentifiable and indiscernible stuff mixed together with rice and served in bowls instead of plates. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since it tastes good and the portions are very large. The food is always very spicy, however, so you better have cold water on deck.

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Life in the dormitory is pretty simple, at least when people aren’t yelling in the corridors. We have a hot & cold water dispenser in the kitchen next door. It is basically the best thing ever in this weather and alongside spicy food. Additionally, there’s a refrigerator and stoves for everyone to use, and by everyone I mean that the same 2-3 guys use them every time. Other than that, we have bathrooms with showers and laundry machines, a gym and an ATM to withdraw money as well. Speaking of money, almost everything here is cheaper than in Finland, especially food and drinks in restaurants. That’s why many people, including Koreans, like to eat out and party. School food is very cheap as well, considering the magnitude of it. I’m still not over the fact that I’m paying 3,500 for food; feels like I’m a big shot!

The world outside of the campus seems massive. It feels strange when the closest place you know your way around is thousands of kilometers away. Almost like exploring uncharted territory, I guess. Anyway, I’ve been trying to get to know the lay of the land by not only walking around the campus, which is quite big, but also in the streets of Suwon city. From what I’ve seen, it seems that foreigners, other than students, are few and far between in this area. That said there are tons of places around here for food and hanging out. We’ve been eating out a couple of times and also checked out an arcade with other Finnish exchange students. Luckily, one of the guys has been around for one semester already, so he knows all the good places. Although most Koreans have a hard time with English, they have been very niceu and helpfur so far.

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