memoirs of a gaijin

A New Batch of Foreigners

My summer break was quickly coming to an end, unfortunately.  It was time for the second semester to start, which meant the new residents of I-House were moving in.  All of us who were left from the first semester weren’t really sure what to expect from all the new people, and honestly most of us weren’t all that excited.  Still, we all decided we were going to try to treat the new people from this semester better than how we were treated as new people ourselves.  There wasn’t much mixing between old students and us for the most part.  We all just kept to our own groups.  One girl even welcomed us with a kind message written on a white board hanging outside of someone’s room, “Go home bastard children of I-House!”  We were going to be a bit nicer than that!

We had gotten to see the big diagram of everyone’s faces that the caretaker had earlier in the summer.  It was just rows of people’s passport-style photos and their names, and we had spent a lot of time laughing about them and making up their stories and personalities.  One person looked like a terrifying serial killer, for example.  Another was totally a jerk football player type.  Most of our initial judgements were totally off, of course!  But we had to find some way to entertain ourselves over the summer!

Finally, the day had come when everyone began to arrive.  We all set up chairs and tables in the genkan area so we could greet people (and judge them) as they arrived.  They arrived mostly in waves from the airport, and it was shocking to see just how excited they were to be here!  We were cringing to see them taking pictures of every little thing, vigorously shaking everyone’s hand, and bursting to get out and experience Japan!  Were we really like that when we arrived, too?  We all wondered about it in embarrassment.  It was kind of sad, though!  We had all vowed never to become the jaded, bitter people that many of the older students had turned into, but it was definitely already starting.

After a good amount of people had arrived that morning, we realized there would be a break for a few hours before the next batch of foreigners came, so we decided to be good senpai and take the new kids out to lunch at Hamazushi, the nearby sushi restaurant.  I ended up sitting at a table with the most energetic, excited person on the face of the earth, of course.  She was just so pumped about every little thing!  Oh, you order from a screen! They even have melon!  It was real Japanese sushi!  I wish I could have 1/10th of the excitement for life that she had, honestly!  I was pretty envious.  I began to realize how I had changed over the few months of being here, and I wished I could still feel that intense happiness of just being in a new restaurant or store!

I decided to  go back home with another guy while everyone else went to the supermarket to pick up some food.  I was pretty exhausted from lunch, so I wasn’t sure if I could handle the excitement of a Japanese grocery store.  By around 7 or 8 at night, all the rest of the new people had arrived (except for the one or two who would be there the next day), so we decided to take some new kids to Saizeriya for dinner.  There were a lot of us, and we took up a whole row of tables in the back of the restaurant!  Poor waiters and waitresses working that night!  My experience for dinner was the exact opposite of my lunch experience.  I ended up at a table with Stephan, and old student, and one new student.  The new guy had just arrived that day, but he already seemed totally bummed out by his experience.  He was disappointed that we weren’t having authentic Japanese food for dinner.  We tried to argue that although it was Western food, it was done in a pretty Japanese way that made it unlike anything you could find in America, but he wasn’t buying that.  He was also disappointed that everyone wasn’t speaking only Japanese.  We awkwardly made it through dinner as we watched the guy’s hopes and dreams die.

When we got back, everyone decided it was a good idea to get started drinking!  People were in the inner garden in I-House getting drunk for the first of what would be countless parties out there.  We all kind of mixed and and talked and learned about each other, and it was a lot of fun.  It was bizarre after two months to see I-House active and full of people once again.  It took a bit of getting used to, but things worked themselves out pretty well, I think.

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Three Days in Tokyo

We set off around 5 in the morning on day 1 to catch our bus to Tokyo at Nagoya Station. It was a nice 6 hour journey to get there, and I spent the time mostly sleeping! We arrived at Shinjuku Station around lunch time and started to get our bearings. Our first plan of attack was to head over to the man-made island full of shopping and fun called Odaiba.

Of course to get there, we had to use a special monorail train owned by a different company, so we couldn’t get a one-day pass or anything like that! But still, the 700 yen or so was worth it to check the place out. Odaiba is the home to a lot of famous Tokyo sites, including a giant Gundam, a fake Statue of Liberty, and Rainbow Bridge, which wasn’t very rainbowy! There was lots of shopping and other sites as well to keep us busy for the entire day. We wanted to stick around for sunset so we could see Rainbow Bridge light up, so we spent a lot of time walking around. We got to see a fake K-Pop concert (that was full of older ladies having a great time!), ride a nice Ferris wheel, and do some shopping.

After our afternoon in Odaiba, we decided to leave and head towards another famous site, Tokyo Tower. Because the Tokyo Sky Tree, the second largest structure in the world, was built fairly recently, Tokyo Tower definitely didn’t seem as popular. Still, it’s definitely an iconic image in Tokyo and looks pretty nice when lit up at night. I enjoyed it!

Tokyo Tower from afar

Tokyo Tower from afar

Tokyo Tower up close!

Tokyo Tower up close!

It was already dark and pretty late by this time, so we decided to head to the hotel Kim had booked for us. Oh my god. This place was horrible and creepy. We got there and went to the lobby desk. We told them our name, and they told us…they didn’t have any reservations under it! We had used a website to book it, and we had definitely received a confirmation mail, so we didn’t know what had happened. Luckily (I guess…), they had rooms available still, so we still had a place to sleep that night! Then the guy gave us the grand tour. We had thought it was a hotel, but it was more like a hostel. He pointed out the shared baths, and I was immediately worried. I know I’m a wuss, but I really don’t like the idea of being naked around other people at all! It’s just one thing I can’t get over! Luckily I was able to pull my foreigner card and request to use the family bath that could be reserved and had a lock. We were taken to our room, but not before passing a huge bookshelf full of pornographic magazines! Luckily this was right outside of our room, in case we ever got bored! The creepiness didn’t end, however. We got to our room, and I noticed immediately that above my bed, there was an oil painting of a naked Western woman. It wasn’t even an artistic rendition of the female form. It was straight-up an amateur picture of a naked lady! The guy showing us around eventually left, and I made sure the door was locked before we went to sleep in the creeper’s hostel.

We woke up early the next morning so we could make it to the Tokyo Sky Tree before it got too crowded. Even getting there an hour early, the lines were already pretty long! There are two different options we were offered when buying tickets: going to the first observation deck for 2000 yen (about 20 bucks), or buying the ticket that allows you to go to the higher observation deck for an added 1000 yen. We decided we might as well go all out, so we put down our 3000 yen each and went up. Even the first observation deck was really really high! There wasn’t really much of a noticeable different between the first deck and the second one. Everything just looked tiny and far away no matter what! The views were definitely worth it, though. It was a really amazing place. It really puts it into perspective just how incredibly sprawling Tokyo is. Everything looked like a never-ending sea of gray concrete. One fun feature they had was a glass floor that you could stand on and look down to the ground. It was really terrifying! Of course it was super popular, so you had to kind of waddle through the crowd and squish together to see anything! After lots of time looking around, we decided to set off to see other sites around Tokyo.

Our next stop was Asakusa, a famous area that is home to a shrine with a distinctive gate, called Kaminarimon. There were lots of little shops and stalls in the area, so we decided to look around. I got a few cell phone charms to add to my collection (I get one from every place I visit in Japan!), and got these snacks that were being made in the street. We got to see the whole process, from them being baked to them going through this contraption that wrapped them individually in plastic. They were pretty simple little cakelike snacks, but I liked them! We made it to the huge gate and got some pictures of it and the crowded shrine before we decided to hit a convenience store to cool down a little. Walking around outside in Tokyo in August was draining, and it was easy for me to lose my spirits, especially because Kim was so unfazed by the heat! I was dying, but he was excited and ready to walk around and look at everything! Jerk! After cooling down with some ice cream, we headed off to our next stop, the Ueno Zoo.

This zoo was nothing too special, but luckily it was really close to Asakusa! It’s famous for its two pandas, which they advertise pretty well, similar to the koalas at the Nagoya Zoo. They had arrived just the year before, so I guess it was pretty exciting for them! By the time I got to the zoo, I was tired and hot, and wasn’t really in the best mood to look at animals. I wanted to sit down and rest in a cool building for awhile, so we ended up getting some lunch inside the zoo. We continued on, though, and finished walking through the zoo.

As Kim’s horrible itinerary said, our next stop was a nearby temple or something. It was within walking distance of the zoo, so we set out on foot. On the way, though, we stumbled upon a lake with those swan-shaped boats for couples to paddle around in. We spontaneously thought it would be a good idea to get inside one, so we paid our 600 yen and got 30 minutes of swan time. There were two sets of peddles we had to kick ourselves to make the boat go, and one wheel to steer the vessel. Things quickly devolved into arguing who would peddle and who would steer and how we were going to last 30 minutes in the hot interior! It was really funny, but not at all sweet and romantic like one would think! We eventually made our way back to the dock and left. I quickly discovered that somewhere along the way, I had gotten some gunk on the back of my dress. So we had to go back to the creep hotel so I could change! Afterwards we decided to just look around the area. We ended up at a place called ningyocho, which means puppet town. Luckily there were no puppets or dolls or whatever, which would have been really creepy! We just ended up getting some curry for dinner, which made me very happy!

We left the creepy hotel with all our stuff on the third day and headed towards the Emperor’s home. It was a really pretty area with a nice park nearby and lots of wide open spaces. However, the emperor wasn’t home that day since he was on his summer vacation! What a life! We then moved on to Shibuya to see one of the most famous shrines in Tokyo, Meiji Jingu. It’s a long walk from the street up to the shrine, but it’s a beautiful forested path. The shrine itself was pretty standard and looked pretty similar to other shrines I’ve visited from what I could tell. I may be biased, but I think I actually like Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya better!

After checking out the shrine, we decided to head out for lunch. We found a McDonald’s nearby, but that choice was definitely a mistake. We were in Shibuya, an incredibly popular area of Tokyo, so after we ordered our food, we could not find a seat at all! People were sharing tables with strangers, standing to eat, anything they could do. We stood around for awhile until some space finally opened up and we could sit down next to some other people. It was not the best way to eat lunch, but we managed, and it was definitely a unique experience! Since we were in Shibuya, we decided to look around and check out the famous Hachiko statue. I made Kim go through the scramble crossing, and then we decided to move on. Shibuya seemed to be shopping-oriented, so since we were traveling as cheaply as possible, we decided to skip that. We ended up going to Harajuku to look around a bit, and then headed to Akihabara, which we both agreed would have been more exciting to our past selves. Essentially, we did all that I had done in my previous Tokyo trip all in an afternoon/evening! Traveling in smaller groups definitely has its advantages.

Kim and Hachi

Kim and Hachi

Finally, we headed to Shinjuku after it had gotten dark so we could visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This is an awesome tall building that is totally free to go up in! We arrived and walked around the building to try to find the entrance, but we couldn’t! We were so lost, so we tried to stand in front and wait for other tourists to lead us to this secret entrance! Eventually some Koreans came by and we were able to (sneakily) follow them to the right place. There was a normal door which led to the government building, but then there was a sort of hidden underground door that took us to the elevator to the top of the building! We waited in the long line, had our bags checked, and finally made it up to the top! Although it wasn’t as tall as the Sky Tree, it was free and we got to see some pretty great night views of Tokyo.

By this point, I was exhausted. Three days walking all around Tokyo in the hot sun had tired me out. My legs literally felt like they were on fire with every step I took. We found another McDonald’s nearby to rest at and get some coffee, but although Kim was still energetic enough to walk around and see more sights, I was almost in tears from the pain in my legs! I had to give up and just sit and rest until our bus back home arrived. We sat on a bench and talked for awhile, and on the bench next to us was a very amorous couple in their 40s or 50s whose lips didn’t seem to separate at all in the two hours we were waiting! But I was too tired to even get up and move, so I did my best to ignore them. Around 11:00 that night, the bus finally arrived. Although we had made reservations with Willer, it wasn’t the usual pink bus that came to get us. I was pretty sad, because those pink Willer buses are really nice and comfortable! Still, I was excited for my first night bus experience! There’s something that I just love about being in a bus at night. I was able to sleep most of the night, though I woke up every once in awhile with my neck in an awkward position with the sound of the bus rumbling down the highway filling my ears. Using a night bus to get back was a great idea, though. It let us get the most of the whole day in Tokyo, we didn’t have to pay for another night at a hotel, and when we got home, we could just go to sleep until we were fully rested!

We arrived at Nagoya Station around 5 in the morning and had to make the hour-long trip back to Nisshin. The early morning subway out to the countryside was relatively empty, at least, so I just sat down and slept some more! We got back to I-House just as the caretaker was getting ready to start her day, so we had to stand in the genkan and tell her about our trip. After talking quite a bit about the heat in Tokyo, she let us go, and we were able to sleep the rest of the morning and recover some of our strength. It was amazing to think back and realize just how much we accomplished in less than three days of being in Tokyo! Although I was tired and angry and ready to die at the time, now that I look back on it, it’s all wonderful memories!

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Back to Tokyo

I already detailed my first trip to Tokyo that was a lot of fun but not a great tour of the city. Because Kim is fluent in Japanese and takes classes with the real Japanese students at NUFS, however, his class schedule was different than the rest of us foreigners, so he didn’t get to take part in our adventure to Tokyo. So we decided that we would go, just the two of us, on a short weekend trip to explore and have some fun. It was summer and we were free, after all.

Since I had already been, this trip was mostly for Kim, so I let him plan it fully! We would see whatever he wanted to see and do whatever he wanted to do, with a little bit of input from me on what I didn’t get a chance to see. He spent a few nights hunched over a computer with a notebook nearby and planned out our trip. And he was seriously really good at it! He somehow planned the perfect trip! He though of everything, from the placement of our hotel to the perfect buses to and from Tokyo to the path of each day’s journey. He should actually make a career out of planning perfectly thought-out trips for people.

However, after all our work and once everything was booked, we got invited to stay overnight at one of the I-House RA’s houses. She was leaving to study abroad in France for a semester, so she decided to invite all of us leftover foreigners over for a barbecue. I really really wanted to go and felt bad that I would miss out on seeing her that one last time, but there was no way we could cancel our plans. Still, despite this small misstep, I ended up having a great experience in Tokyo.

I’ll go over the trip in upcoming blog posts!

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Studying for the JLPT

Since I was using my nights during the summer for adventuring, I had to find a way to pass the time during the hot, humid days, preferably indoors. So I went to the library and studied, probably for the first time in my life, really.

I’ve studied Japanese for about 3-4 years in college, but for the first time, I was able to focus just on this goal. I decided to aim high for the N2 level of JLPT. For anyone who doesn’t know what the JLPT is, it stands for Japanese language proficiency test, and it is broken up in 5 different levels, N5 being the easiest and N1 being the most difficult. With each step up in level, the amount of hours needed to study doubles. So, N4 is roughly twice as hard as N5, N3 is roughly twice as hard as N4, and so on. For me, I was trying to decide between N3 and N2, and I definitely lie somewhere in between. N3 requires you to memorize about 600 kanji, while N2 requires about 1000, to give you an idea of the difficulty. To work at a Japanese company as a foreigner, you need a minimum of an N2 to even be considered most of the time. I was confident that if I took N3, I would be able to pass it, but I wanted to shoot for a higher goal and challenge myself. I never really had any interest in ever working at a Japanese company, so it was just a personal goal to see how far I could go.

In Korea, I bought quite a few books to start practicing, and I ended up buying even more in Japan. When I first started studying, I comfortably knew 200-300 kanji, so I set out to work on learning them most of all. Learning kanji is tedious and horrible, and there’s not really any easy way to do it. Some people find writing the characters over and over again to be the best way to learn, and others use flash cards. For me, after trying that and struggling, I had to learn them not as just individual characters, but as words in sentences. It seemed to help, but it’s pretty easy to get frustrated. The test is broken up into three main parts: vocabulary and grammar, reading, and listening. I felt that just by living in Japan, my listening was okay, and I had enough feel for grammar that I wasn’t too bad. But my vocabulary was embarrassingly bad. So I needed to focus on that. So I set up goals to study 20 kanji per day, go over 5 grammar points per day, and take a practice test every two or three weeks between August and December. Of course, I’m really lazy, so I didn’t stick to it very well! Still, having a goal to work towards helped me immensely. It gave me focus and specific sets of vocabulary, grammar, and kanji to learn. And I even ended up having a lot of fun studying for it! …Except for when I was frustrated to the point of tears, of course!

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Biking in Japan

Bikes are a really popular mode of transportation in Japan, and they are treated in many ways like a motor vehicle.  To own and operate a bicycle, you have to have a ridiculous amount of documentation (the manual, the receipt from when you bought it, and in my case, documents describing the bike’s transfer of ownership because I bought mine used from another student), and you have to carry these papers with you anytime you use the bike or face the possibility of the cops pulling you over and assuming you stole the bike.  You also have to have a light on the  bike if you’re using it at night (or you may have to face the wrath of the police!).  Luckily, my bike had a light built in, but I quickly gave up on carrying around all my documentation all the time.  I got away with it unscathed, but others may not have been so lucky!  Despite owning a bike, I was very hesitant at first to ride it.  I come from a very bicycle-unfriendly town where at least one or two people on bikes get killed by cars every year, and during the orientation, the people at NUFS explained that our own little Nisshin had one of the highest amounts of traffic accidents in all of Japan, so I was pretty sure that I was going to die if I ever rode it.  However, after Kim prodded me and forced me to do it (he bought a bike right when he got to Japan and went on lonely adventures by himself), we went on our first bike ride to a nearby park.  I got over my fear, and the adventures began.

Since I-House was mostly empty, we needed a way to fill our days, anyway.  Going out in the heat of the day was not much fun, so we decided to wait until night to set off on our bikes.  We started by trying to explore all the cities bordering Nisshin.  We would use google maps, try to get a feel for the direction, and then head off each warm summer night towards our goal.  We toured through almost all of Nisshin, to Miyoshi, Seto, Akaike, Owariasahi, and Nagakute.  Each night we would try to go just a little bit further.  Kim had a lot more stamina than me, though, so I would often drag behind with a scowl on my face, cursing all the hills around our area.  There are so many hills that areas of the town are named after them!  (Like Fujigaoka and Hoshigaoka, where oka means hill.)

Eventually, we decided to explore all the stations of the Higashiyama subway line from the end of the line at Fujigaoka all the way to Sakae. Biking through Sakae (on a Friday night, no less) was pretty crazy. There were so many people, and by the time we arrived after the 9 mile journey, I was exhausted! Still, it was a lot of fun. I was real glad to have gotten to use my bike. Japan really is a biker-friendly country, and it was a really awesome opportunity to explore the area.

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Korea Part 8: Going Home

Our last day in Korea had unfortunately arrived.  Our day started out on kind of the wrong foot, however.  There was some sort of family argument that happened over something (all in Korean!), so Kim and I left in sort of low spirits.  However, after we got away and went to the local mall, things got more fun.  First, we decided that we should take advantage of the lower price of haircuts in Korea (at least half the price of Japan).  We found a salon run by a man and a woman, and Kim was up first.  Then we played a nice trust game, where Kim had to help me communicate how I wanted my hair to be cut. This proved to be a little difficult, but through a combination of English, Japanese, Korean and awkward hand gestures, they got an idea of what I wanted.  I didn’t exactly get the haircut I was expecting, but I guess that’s all part of the experience!



Afterwards, we went to a popular cosmetics store called Missha, where we got some face stuff (I’m not even sure what I got, but Korea is pretty famous for their cosmetics products, so I went with it), and then they threw in a bunch of random free stuff as well.  We were pretty much packed full, though, so we couldn’t handle free soaps and baskets to hold bottles of products and stuff like that, so we had to leave it behind!  I loved getting free stuff, though, and apparently it’s really common in Korea, so I may just have to go back someday!  We also decided to check out a place in the mall to get new glasses.  The place was just like one of those kiosks in the mall, not even located in a real store.  However, they had the whole setup that an American optometrist would have with a fairly nice selection of frames as well.  At first it was just going to be Kim getting new glasses, but the whole process was so cheap that I couldn’t resist, either!  In America, I would have had to pay probably 100 dollars for the exam and then pay for frames on top of that, then wait a week for my glasses to be ready.  However, at this place, we only had to wait about 10 minutes, and the whole process only cost about 50 bucks.  So, I sat down to get my eye exam, and luckily the guy was pretty good at English!  He figured out my prescription, and I opted to just get better lenses and keep my frames since I liked them and that was cheaper.  While we were waiting, we even got a free coupon for ice cream at the Lotteria that was nearby in the mall!  However, a new trust game started, as the man had my glasses to put the new lenses in and I have horrible vision without them!  Kim had to lead me down the mall safely and sit me in a booth while he went to get our ice creams.  Luckily he didn’t abandon me, and we enjoyed our free ice cream before he shuffled me back down to pick up or glasses.  It was a really cool experience to get new glasses so cheaply and easily!

My first time seeing a burrito in months

My first time seeing a burrito in months

After a little more shopping in the mall (like picking up some snacks and soju to take back to Japan as souvenirs), we got a call from his mother who wanted to come pick us up and have dinner with us before we left.  We waited a bit before his mom and sister came to get us, and the feeling was still a little awkward in the car after the argument that morning.  We got to the restaurant, and things weren’t much better.  Kim’s sister was giving him some sort of lecture about respect or something in Korean, so I just sat there awkwardly watching him take the abuse.  Respect for elders (even those just one year older than you) is a major component of Korean society, so I understood why she was making a big deal out of it, but it was definitely a negative bit of culture shock for me.  It’s a much stricter society than I’m used to, and I just wouldn’t be able to accept that just because someone is a year or two older than me, they’re that much wiser or more authoritative.  It was pretty upsetting to have to be witness of this whole argument that lasted way too long and to have our Korean vacation end on such a sour note.  After dinner, they took us to the KTX station, and after I said my thanks, we finally got to part ways.

We made our way back to Incheon and it was already dark.  We were exhausted from the day, and even from the whole week of travel, so we stepped out of the station ready to find a hotel and crash.  We were approached by a taxi driver, which seemed kind of unusual.  He asked us where we wanted to go, and asked if we wanted to get there fast.  We did.  We got our luggage in the trunk and got into the backseat, and the man took off.  This was the scariest car ride of my life!  When this man promised to get us somewhere fast, he was serious!  I think he broke every single driving law ever during our 5 or 10 minute journey, including speeding and even driving in the lane for traffic going the opposite way, just to get around people and make it through a yellow light.  At the time I was just in a kind of daze and found it all to be pretty fun, but later when I thought about it, I realized that I probably could have died.  We somehow made it to our hotel alive, though.  We ordered some delivery chicken and just relaxed after our trying day.

Delivery Chicken!

Delivery Chicken!

This was green onion chicken that came with a soy dipping sauce

This was green onion chicken that came with a soy dipping sauce

I managed to take a picture of the StarCraft channel.  I couldn't believe it was real...

I managed to take a picture of the StarCraft channel. I couldn’t believe it was real…

The next day, we made it to the airport early for our morning flight and arrived back in Osaka in the early afternoon.  We then had to wait around for our bus back to Nagoya.  I was exhausted and did not want to deal with the craziness that is Osaka Station, especially with heavy luggage.  Luckily, though, the Willer Bus company had a pretty nice waiting area in Osaka, so we got to wait inside in a nice air conditioned space that even had computer and outlets to charge electronics.  We got some bento boxes for lunch and then just waited around and talked until our bus came.

Bye bye, Korea...

Bye bye, Korea…

Our pretty awesome lunch!

Our pretty awesome lunch!

Eventually, we made it back to Nagoya, and then made the journey back to Nisshin and back to I-House.  It was so nice to be home again and to see everyone!  We barely made it through the doors before everyone was swarming us.  We eventually made our ways to the area in front of Kim’s door, where we all sat on the floor and told everyone the story of our Korean adventure and heard the various stories about what happened at I-House while we were gone.  It felt so nice to be surrounded by our friends again after not seeing them for so long!  After we eventually made it back to our rooms to put our suitcases away, we all met in the kitchen to share our snacks and to drink a little.

And so, our trip to Korea ended after various lows and highs.  However, it was one of the most fun things that I got to experience during my time studying abroad in Japan.  Before I met Kim, I had absolutely no knowledge or interest concerning Korea, so it was amazing to have a whole knew country full of experiences opened up for me.

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Korea Part 7: Yeosu Expo

After our night in Jinju, Kim’s family came to pick us up so we could all go to the Yeosu Expo together.  Yeosu is about a three hour drive away from Kim’s home, but it was hosting a worldwide expo of some sort, so his parents really wanted me to be able to experience that during my trip in Korea.  I honestly wasn’t all that interested, but since it was important to his family, I went along with it.

Being in the car with his parents and sister was definitely an experience.  At various points during the ride, they would begin speaking in very loud voices about the right way to get there.  It was pretty intimidating to be in a small car with everyone yelling in Korean, but every once in awhile Kim’s sister would turn to me and explain that they weren’t fighting or mad, they were just always loud.  We finally arrived and found a place to park (after some more arguments), and made our way to the entrance.  Before we actually entered the park, though, Kim’s mom busted out the fruit for us to eat.  Yep, I was getting some more fruit punishment!  We all sat on a bench and ate watermelon that she had cut up and brought along with her in a backpack!  Kim explained to me that Korean people love packing up food and taking it with them, so I guess it’s a normal thing!

We finally entered the park and started looking through exhibits.  The expo was a collection of about 12 different countries that made some sort of video or performance about how important the ocean is and how we need to make better efforts to keep it clean.  The video in America’s part of the exhibit featured Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama explaining how important the ocean is to Americans and our economy, and some American efforts to cleaning up beaches and oceans.  Some countries took a more…creative approach.  For example, the Chinese exhibit featured an animated video of a young girl who is exploring the dirty ocean in horror.  It cuts to her in the future, where she has invented a submarine that has a vacuum attachment on it that sucks in pollution and trash and shoots out cleanliness. The video ended and two dancers came out and performed.  It was really interesting visually, but the content was a little lacking!

Inside one of the exhibits

Inside one of the exhibits

Despite Kim’s mother emphasizing the global aspect of the Yeosu expo, I was the only white person there, except for a couple token foreigners who stood by the doors and greeted people entering their country’s exhibit.  Really, we spent most of our time just waiting in lines to get into different rooms throughout the exhibit and watching videos about sad mermaids and ocean vacuum cleaners.  We had a break for lunch, so we went down to a cafeteria and I got samgyetang, a soup with vegetables and pieces of beef ribs with the bones still in.  Soup again!  Later, Kim’s mom brought out some grapes and made us eat those sitting outside in the sun.

Me and my soup!

Me and my soup!

The highlight of the event was a performance towards the end of the night, unfortunately titled the “Big-O Show.”  It was a musical version of a famous Korean story that was projected onto a “screen” that was made by jets of water shooting out of a huge upright ring.  It combined the water show with bursts of fire as well as live performances by the actors.  However, I couldn’t see any of it!  Despite arriving at the open air theater about two hours early, every single seat was taken, and people were already spilling over into walkways and the paths behind and above seats.  It was absolutely chaotic.  We set up a small seating area with a blanket on the concrete and waited for the show to start.  Kim’s mother and sister left us after awhile to try to find better seats, and they never ended up returning!  So that just left Kim, his father and I to awkwardly sit and wait.

It was during this time that I developed a fear for the Korean phenomenon of ajumma.  Ajumma is a word that refers to middle-aged women, and in Korea they all seem to wear the same “uniform” (track suit type outfits with separate sleeves that they wear to protect their arms from the sun, a visor, and curly hair), and have the same scary attitude.  It is very important in Korean culture to pay respect to elders, so I think this power goes to their head.  While we were sitting and waiting, all around us were these ajummas screaming at people from their seats to do various things.  We were in a place where, no matter what, we were unable to see the stage, but that didn’t stop these older ladies from yelling at people to sit down on the ground so they could see the “view” or to move over and make room for them so they could get a closer spot.  They also have no qualms with pushing and cutting in front of you to get to where they want to go.  After being in super polite Japan, I was completely in over my head, so I often lost sight of Kim in crowds as a bunch of people made their way in front of me.  He thought it was hilarious, and he gave me advice to just be as ruthless as them!  It’s just not really considered rude like it is in Japan or America, and no one will really care or pay attention if you cut them off or get in their way, I guess.  It’s just what you have to deal with in a country that has so many people crammed into such a small space and that was pretty much just an agrarian society only 60 years ago.  I became pretty good at maneuvering through crowds by the end of my stay in Korea, but unfortunately I took that mindset back with me to Japan and continued to be cutthroat for awhile in subways and public areas for awhile!

Once the performance was over (I didn’t see any of it, just heard the dialogue and songs which were in Korean), it was already really late, so Kim and I decided to get some dinner before we headed back to his apartment.  We ate bibimbap, which I was excited to eat just for the name!  It’s a rice dish with vegetables carefully arranged on top.  You then add a spicy chile sauce and mix it all up.  Kim added tons of the sauce to mine, though, so it ended up being really spicy!  It was delicious, but my mouth was burning by the end, so I couldn’t finish eating it all!  We met back up with his family afterwards and began the three hour drive back home. I was exhausted from being outside almost all day waiting in lines and dealing with crowds, so I ended up sleeping the whole way back and falling asleep almost immediately after we got to the apartment!  It was nice to spend the day with Kim’s family at a pretty important expo in Korea, so overall it was a nice day!

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Korea Part 6: Jinju

We took a bus from bustling Busan to Kim’s small childhood town of Jinju.  It took about an hour or two to get there, and once we arrived, we decided to complete our number one goal for Korea:  getting some Domino’s Pizza!  Because four of Kim’s best friends that he’s known since middle school still live in Jinju (at least during the summer vacation), Kim decided to contact them to see if they wanted to get some pizza with us.  We already had plans to meet up with them later that day, and our lunch plans were pretty sudden, so only one friend ended up being able to meet us early.  We ordered pizza and waited for Choi, the friend.  I was really nervous to meet Kim’s friends.  I wasn’t sure how they would act around me or if they would like me or how we would even communicate, really!

Choi arrived, and it became very clear that he was painfully, awkwardly shy.  Great.  He got Kim to tell me “nice to meet you,” and after that, any interaction between the two of us ended.  We got our pizza and had hoped to go to Choi’s apartment, but his family was visiting and he didn’t feel comfortable taking us there, so we just found a nearby park to eat!  It was actually a really beautiful, green park with trees and covered sitting areas, so I didn’t mind it.  However, Kim told me later that Choi thought it was really strange to eat pizza outside in the middle of summer, which put him in a bit of a bad mood, I guess.  Kim and Choi talked and caught up while we ate, but since I don’t know any Korean, I had no idea what they were saying!  I tried to ask a few questions every now and then, though!

I guess one topic Kim and Choi talked about was what to do with the rest of the afternoon and decided that we would go to the mall and see a movie!  I just followed along and went with their plans, even though I would have rather seen more of Jinju than see a movie!  We got to the mall and of course, the closest movie time was about an hour away, so we had some time to kill.  And so the awkwardness level jumped up two or three levels for me!  We walked around, occasionally sitting on benches.  However, Choi was still extremely awkward in my presence.  He didn’t want to walk next to me or have to sit next to me.  Kim, of course, didn’t notice this at all.  Once, he sat on a bench, taking the edge portion of it.  I sat in the middle portion, not really minding having to sit next to Choi, but he chose to awkwardly stand next to Kim instead of sit next to me.  Now that I look back, his behavior is actually pretty funny, but at the time, I was becoming more and more depressed with each second that passed.  I was seriously failing at meeting Kim’s friends!  Meeting the others later was going  to be even worse!  I eventually got some alone time with Kim in a bookstore (Choi wasn’t interested in books or something so he waited outside), and he finally realized I was absolutely miserable!  I don’t think he understood exactly why, though.  Kim may not be very attuned into the sufferings of other people, I realize.

The hour finally passed and we made our way back to buy tickets for the movie.  We got our seats (with Kim in the middle, thank God), and didn’t have to interact at all for the duration of the movie.  It was some silly musical film (I don’t know the name!), and Kim and I enjoyed it well enough.  Choi thought it was boring.  I somehow held myself back from strangling the guy, because a fresh panic found its way into my mind.  We were going to meet up with two other friends for dinner.  The three of us walked from the mall to a nearby area with lots of restaurants and shops.  Waiting for us in front of the restaurant was Park and the other Kim (who I call…Other Kim).  My heart was pounding in those first few moments that I met them.  They said “nice to meet you,” and then Park explained that he could speak a little bit of Japanese (by “a little bit,” he meant his level was waaaay above mine!).  I was so happy to hear this!  I could actually speak with someone in Korea!  Other Kim could also speak a little bit of English!  We talked a little before entering the restaurant, and my mood had already picked up again.

We ate a samgyepsal restaurant, which meant we had a grill at our table, and we got to order a bunch of delicious, thick pieces of pork belly to grill to perfection!  We were soon laughing and talking and telling stories (everyone except Choi, who awkwardly sat at the end of the table and said almost nothing.  I actually forgot he was even there a lot of the time!).  Once again, we had to make little bundles out of a piece of dark green lettuce filled with the meat and other things.  Other Kim kindly took this opportunity to explain the process to me (since he is enrolled in culinary school) in his rather humorous English that he is very proud of.  “Get this, put this, put this, insert!” he said as he assembled a little bundle and mimed putting it in his mouth.  I just smiled and thanked him as he explained about the meat, but Kim was next to me dying of laughter.  Other Kim didn’t notice.  It was really funny to see Kim around his friends.  I had never seen him laugh so much and so hard before in one night!

After we were filled up on delicious grilled meat, we left the restaurant and went across the street to Baskin Robins for dessert.  Although the prices are similar to those in Japan (about 6 or 7 dollars for three scoops in a cup), the amount of ice cream we were given was about twice as much as we got in Japan!  We were nearly crying from happiness!  Kim and I couldn’t even eat all of it!  After our ice cream, we hopped on a bus for the other side of town where everyone lived.  We tried to figure out more to do, like going to the famous Jinju Castle or doing karaoke, but we couldn’t decide on anything!  We ended up just walking up the side of the river, an important feature in Jinju.  The riverside is a place that a lot of people gather and is home to movies shown on a big screen and even musical performances.  Kim actually saw the really famous Kpop group Girl’s Generation there a few years back!  And every October there’s a famous festival where brightly-lit floating lanterns float down the river and everyone lines up along the banks to watch them.  We eventually made it to the neighborhood where Park and Other Kim live, and where Kim used to live before moving to Changwon last year.  We said our goodbyes, and I was actually pretty sad that we wouldn’t get to spend more time with Kim’s friends in Jinju!  Although the day started off rough, it ended up being the most fun day I had in Korea in the end!  Jinju was small and quiet, but I really enjoyed it, and I hope to be able to return someday!  Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera, and Kim’s phone ran out of battery, so I don’t have any pictures from this day.

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Korea Part 5: Busan

I woke up the next morning to Kim’s mother in the huge glass window beside my bed hanging up laundry on the balcony. She said some stuff to me in Korean, and I panicked and froze.  Luckily she didn’t expect an answer.  I awkwardly got up and went into Kim’s room, hoping he was awake.  He wasn’t.  And no matter how hard I tried to shake him, hit him, and plead with him, he would not wake up.  Thanks, Kim.

I kept myself busy for awhile on his computer, and eventually he woke up after his mother yelled at him to come eat breakfast.  She had once again prepared a whole meal with duck, rice, kimchi, vegetables, and jijimi, which are little savory pancakes (these ones included that super strong herb that we had eaten last night that I couldn’t stand!).  It was really hard for me to believe that anyone could actually eat a full on meal like this right when they woke up.  I usually eat nothing for breakfast, or something very light if I have the time.  I felt bad for Kim’s mother for having to wake up early and spend probably an hour just making breakfast!  Once again, after we were full on the meal, Kim’s mother started the fruit punishment and make me eat some grapes and a peach.  I was full to the point of sickness, so Kim and I decided to escape while we could and take a bus into the city.  We walked to the bus stop that was a short distance from his apartment, and we stood there for about 10 miserable minutes waiting for the bus.  It was hot and humid, I was stuffed with duck meat and peaches, and I was getting especially stared at since we were in a smaller town that not many foreigners visit, so I was at a bit of a low point.  And then the bus came.

Buses in Korea are one of the scariest experiences I had!  In Japan, the people who drive buses are kind and calm, waiting for everyone to find a seat or get a hold of a bar before they begin driving.  They announce in soothing voices if they’re going to make a turn or stop.  Korean buses are the exact opposite.  When the bus arrived, Kim urged me to get on first and quickly grab on to something.  I was confused but did as I was told, finding a bar near the very front to hold onto.  The second Kim was firmly on the bus, before he could even pay, the guy was already booking it, leaving Kim stumbling and trying to put change in the machine.  He got it and made his way over to me without falling over, luckily! Just holding onto the bar was a workout!  The bus driver seemed to take glee in watching all our bodies flop around back and forth as he changed lanes and took sharp corners at full speed.  We somehow made it safely into Busan without dying, though!  We then took the subway to the city center to do some shopping.

We found a bookstore that Kim liked to accomplish a major goal:  buying practice test books.  It is Kim’s belief that taking language tests is one of the best ways of getting better at a language, because it gives you a goal and progress marker, making you study harder.  We went to the expansive section of practice books for language tests (Koreans love taking tests, I guess) and Kim started searching through all the books to find the best ones for me.  I would be taking the JLPT N2 test in December, and since Kim had already passed the highest level N1 test years ago, he knew exactly what to look for in a good practice book.  He also got himself some books for TOEIC, an English test that every Korean university student needs to pass in order to graduate and get a good job.

But I don't wanna study...

But I don’t wanna study…

We moved on and decided to stop by Lotteria, a Korean fast food chain, so we could try a famous Korean snack, pappingsu.  This is a strange type of shaved ice that has toppings on it, such as slivered pecans, sweet red beans, mochi, and fruit.  It seemed pretty strange to me, but I ate it anyway!  We just got the fast food version, so maybe I’d like it more from another place!

Pappingsu and iced coffee

Pappingsu and iced coffee

We also got fries that come with a garlic-flavored powder.  You have to add the powder to the bag and shake it up before eating it!

We also got fries that come with a garlic-flavored powder. You have to add the powder to the bag and shake it up before eating it!

Once we were done, we hopped in a taxi and headed over to Busan Tower!  Seoul Tower was definitely more impressive with its view of the endless expanse of buildings in Seoul, but the view of Busan was way more beautiful to me!  There was something so charming and foreign to the look of Busan for me.  Although it was a huge city of 4 million, it didn’t have that gray concrete look to it.

We headed down to the gift shop where I bought a few souvenirs, including a set of metal chopsticks and a spoon.  I had always admired the chopsticks that Kim brought with him from Korea, made of metal with an intricate pattern set in them, so it was my goal to get myself some metal chopsticks, too!  As far as I know, Korea is the only country that uses metal chopsticks (Japan uses wood or plastic ones), and a lot of people who travel to Korea from other Asian countries complain that they’re heavy and harder to use!  Before moving on to our next location, we decided to do a “promise lock” thing.  These are incredibly popular in Japan and Korea, and lots of tourist sites like towers have fences covered in them.  I think you’re supposed to write down a promise or a vow or some other declaration of love or friendship before locking it onto the fence, but…I couldn’t think of any promises!  I was under too much pressure and it was just too hot, so we just put our names and stuck it in a memorable place.  I definitely want to be able to return to Busan tower someday and…do something profound and meaningful with my lock!



2012-08-04 12.20.21After we climbed down from the mountain, we went to visit Dongbaek Park, which, as I understand it, is an island that was the meeting place of important leaders one time a few years ago.  It didn’t sound all that interesting to me, but Kim insisted on its cultural importance, so we made the long walk all the way around the small island/peninsula.  I think he just wanted to make me suffer.  However, since it was right along the ocean, there were lots of beautiful views, at least!  The problem was that we had to go meet up with friends that evening, so we had to speed walk through the whole thing and then run over to the neighboring beach area call Haeundae, which is probably the most famous thing in Busan.  We met up again with Dylan and Shin as well as another Korean friend from I-House who had just returned from Japan, and we ate some delicious chicken and beer!

It was a lot of fun to catch up and discuss all that had happened to us since we last saw each other.  Dylan and I shared stories about meeting scary Korean parents and how strange it is that nobody owns beds in Korea.  He had also somehow been asked to be in a commercial for makkurri (the traditional Korean alcohol), where he had to take a drink and say something like “it’s delicious!” to the camera.  However, he hated the taste of it, so it was hard for him to convincingly say that take after take.  We ate a lot of different kinds of chicken flavors, including some with a really spicy sauce we couldn’t even eat!

So delicious...

So delicious…

Once we were finished, we had planned on going to another place to drink more (it’s typical in Korea to go to two or three restaurants in one night), but all the restaurants and bars on the beach were so crowded we couldn’t even get in! So we just stopped by a convenience store and got some drinks and snacks and sat on the beach and talked.  However, it was getting late, so we began discussing where we were going to stay for the night in Busan.  Kim and Shin really wanted to go to a jimjilbang, but once they described it to me, I had to refuse.  Jimjilbang are sort of like hostels.  They charge really low rates per night (something like 10 dollars), but you have to bathe in a communal area and sleep in one big room with everyone else.  That did not sound like a fun night at all, despite what the Koreans were saying!  So Kim gave in and we went to find a hotel near Haeundae, while Shin and Dylan went to a jimjilbang.  I think I made the right decision when I heard about their night, though!  Apparently that night there was a big soccer game between Korea and Japan being played on the other side of the world (it was for the Olymics!), so it was being shown at the jimjilbang until 2 in the morning.  A lot of people had stayed up to watch it and were cheering all through the night, especially when Korea ended up winning!  It was exciting, of course, but Shin and Dylan ended up getting almost no sleep that night!

A bridge that lights up every night with a rainbow of colors

A bridge that lights up every night with a rainbow of colors

I really enjoyed my time in Busan and wished we could have stayed and explored longer!  However, we were heading to Kim’s small hometown the next day, so we had to say goodbye to the beautiful beach city of Busan!

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Korea Part 4: Meeting the Family

We made our way to the station the next morning so we could make the three hour trip from Seoul at the top of the country all the way to the southern coast.  We decided to go by KTX, which is sort of the Korean equivalent to the bullet trains in Japan.  They’re not quite as fast, but they’re significantly cheaper at probably one third of the cost of the shinkansen.  It was really nice to be able to enjoy the scenery through the window, too!  Korea has a lot of rolling green hills and forested mountains in between its densely populated cities, and it was incredibly beautiful and different from the purple rocky mountains that I’m used to back home.

We soon made it to our destination, the KTX station in Changwon, where Kim’s mother was waiting to pick us up.  I had already met his sister, which went well, but I was incredibly nervous to meet his parents.  I had an incredibly sympathetic friend back at I-House who, once he heard that we were going to Korea, began asking me all the time if I was going to meet Kim’s parents, and if I was nervous, and if I was ready to be strong against their traditional Korean values.  It just made me even more nervous!  I was definitely afraid of the possibility of fiercely traditional Korean parents who had no interest in their son being with a foreigner!  So, with my stomach scrunching up in fear, I prepared to meet my fate.

We stepped past the ticket checkers to the waiting area at the station, and I immediately spotted a woman out of the corner of my eye.  I had no idea what Kim’s mom even looked like, but he didn’t seem to notice the woman, so I stopped making eye contact with her.  Of course, being a weird blonde foreigner in a fairly small city, most people were kind of looking at me, so it was hard to know familiar looks from curious ones.  However, that woman approached us, and still Kim had no reaction.  She finally was right in front of us, greeting me and kindly patting my arm before Kim realized it was his own mother.  Thanks, Kim.

We laughed about Kim’s slight cluelessness before she led us out to her car.  Kim and I got in the back seat and she began the drive home.  I felt incredibly awkward and nervous as they conversed, Kim sometimes translating things for me in his broken English.  His parents speak almost no English at all, and I don’t know if that was good or bad for me!  His mother took the long scenic route through Changwon so that we could see the ocean (or perhaps just a river or lake) and the winding mountain paths.  We then arrived at her office, where she runs a real estate agency.  We got out of the car, and a man approached Kim and shook his hand and then greeted me as well.  The mother and the man then went into the office.  I asked Kim who the man was, and he just laughed at me, asking how I didn’t realize right away that it was his father!  After a second look, it became pretty obvious that his father was just an older version of Kim!  But something about the way they greeted just threw me off, I guess!  We went into the office before Kim’s mom led us to a side garden area where she had a little table and a patch of ground with watermelons growing!  She brought out a watermelon that she had already chilled and cut it up for us all to eat.  It seemed kind of strange, but Kim clued me in that this was just the beginning of what he called “fruit punishment.”  I didn’t really know how getting lots of delicious fruit could ever be bad, but I would soon come to learn of the pain of fruit punishment.

After awhile, a conversation in Korean ensued, and I just sat there cluelessly.  This was something that I got used to pretty quickly, though.  I really love hearing Kim speak Korean, or anyone speaking it, really, so I didn’t mind just listening to the nonsense.  The parents soon left, though, so I asked Kim for a translation.  They went to the piece of land that they own where they grow more fruit and vegetables, and although they wanted us to go along with them, Kim said we didn’t want to go!  I was disappointed that he had said that, but once he said there were lots of bugs there, I thought it might have been better that we didn’t go.  The parents soon came back, though, and we headed to the Kim family’s apartment.

This was the strangest apartment that I had ever seen.  It starts out normal, with an entrance area where you take off your shoes, and an open living room area that connects to the kitchen and dining room.  I noticed immediately that the farthest wall of the living room was made up completely of sliding glass that led onto a spacious balcony.  However, once Kim gave me the tour of his own room, I noticed that his back wall was also completely glass that led out onto the same balcony.  The same balcony led to the parents room.  None of these glass doors had curtains or blinds of any kind, so it was possible for someone in the living room to walk out onto the balcony and see into either Kim’s or the parents’ room completely.  How did they have any privacy??  To top it off, it seemed like the mother was always out there, hanging up clothes to be dried or doing other little chores.  I would be living in a constant state of fear and paranoia if that was my apartment!

I moved on past fretting about this strange choice of design, though, because it was time for dinner.  Kim’s mother had excitedly told us in the car that we would be eating eel for dinner.  Neither Kim nor I were all that excited, though, but I feigned happiness.  I don’t mind the taste of eel, but the way she had cooked it, and perhaps the way it is cooked normally, there were lots of little bones in each piece of meat.  I wasn’t really sure if I was supposed to just eat them or spit them out, but since nobody else seemed to be having a problem with them, I just crunched my way through the meal.  We ate the normal way for Korean families, which meant that everything was organized out on the table communally.  The mother showed me how to assemble a little bundle, first using a piece of dark green lettuce as the packaging, then putting in onions, this strange soapy-tasting herb, a piece of eel, and a bit of ssamjang, a red pepper sauce.  She then handed me the lovingly prepared bundle, and I took a bite out of it.  Because of the herb, it was really hard to eat, but I choked it down in some small bites along with my little bowl of rice.  The mother found the way I ate really funny, though!  She was surprised when I didn’t just stuff the whole bundle into my mouth, which is how it’s normally done!  I couldn’t do that, though!  It just felt wrong!  She quickly made me another bundle, and I held back the tears as I ate it.  She also insisted that I eat some of the soup that was in a bowl in the middle of the table.  I asked him how I should eat it, and he just said to stick my spoon in and eat it.  The taste was really nice, but it did gross me out slightly that I was sharing the same bowl of soup with Kim’s parents.  It also sort of perplexing how I was supposed to get a spoonful of soup from a bowl in the middle of the table to my mouth without spilling any.  I was careful and did it successfully, but Kim then clued me in that I could hold my bowl of rice under my spoon while I transported it to my mouth.  I was clearly in over my head for my first Korean family meal, but the parents got a kick out of seeing me try and fail!  They were all really nice about my cluelessness, at least!

Once I was full from the meal, the mother began cleaning up a little.  I thought I was free to digest for awhile, but as soon as she had cleared the dishes, she pulled out her platter of fruit.  She began expertly slicing up peaches for us and cut up the rest of the watermelon from earlier that day.  She also had huge purple grapes.  It was nice to have the sweetness of fruit to wash away the taste of the soapy eel bundles, though, so I happily succumbed to her fruit punishment.  The father also took this opportunity to bust out the makkurri, a traditional Korean rice alcohol that has a sort of watered-down milk appearance.  He handed out cups of it to everyone, and the taste wasn’t too bad.  It has a slight fizziness and in some ways it’s kind of like a really light beer to me, but I’m not exactly an expert in this area!  I downed my cup after awhile, and they asked what I thought of it.  I smiled and told them it was good (through interpreter Kim, of course), but when his father asked if I wanted more, I quickly declined, which they thought was funny.

By this point, Kim’s mother was already thinking about breakfast, and she was worried that she should make something suited more towards my American tastes, which to her meant beef.  She sent us off to the grocery store to get some ingredients.  We took the opportunity to explore the area around Kim’s massive apartment complex.  There were so many shops and restaurants right next to him!  We walked around a single block, and he pointed out the different restaurants to me, from the numerous chicken and beer places to places that specialized in grilled pork belly to more Western places like Baskin Robbins and Dunkin Donuts.  We stopped by a convenience store and Kim got some lottery tickets (he really enjoys wasting his money that way) before we got to the grocery store.  I could have spent a long time looking at everything, but we went to check out the meat first.  The beef was pretty expensive, so I didn’t want to ask the family to pay money just to please me!  I don’t even eat that much beef in my normal life, as Kim knew, so we decided against it.  He asked if I had ever eaten duck, which I haven’t.  So we just decided to let his mother make what she had originally planned, duck bulgogi.

When we got back, it was already late, so the topic of sleeping arrangements awkwardly came up.  First of all, I should mention that Kim doesn’t have a bed in his room.  He just sleeps on the floor, as is the normal thing to do in Korea.  His parents do have a bed, but they don’t even really use it.  Somehow, the mother suggested that I should sleep with her in that bed while Kim and his father slept in the living room or something like that.  It made sense, of course, but there was no way I was going to be sleeping in a bed with Kim’s mom.  I couldn’t even imagine how painfully, cripplingly awkward that scenario would have been.  Luckily she didn’t insist on it.  I felt pretty bad about being so rude, but she let me have the bed to myself, while she would sleep in the living with the father and Kim would sleep in his own room.  They sort of decided it was time for everyone to go to bed, so at 10:00 I laid in bed and tried to go to sleep.  It was a little difficult, though, since it was so early compared to when I usually sleep, and also because there was a flaming red cross right outside the window.  A lot of churches in Korea light the crosses on top of the church in bright red LED lights, which seems absolutely bizarre and a little bit frightening to me!  Still, I managed to eventually fall asleep, unsure of what the next day would bring.

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