Saturday, July 26, 2008

Swimming Pool & Western Bars

The avalanche of odd experiences continues. On Friday, Jacki picked me up and took me and the kids to the swimming pool in Jangseungpo. It's not too far away and is apparently less crowded than the pools that are associated with the two shipyards. The pool is really nice, with a huge locker room full of very nice wooden lockers. Unfortunately, the locker room was also full of small children. Teeming with them, actually, in various stages of undress. The locker room definitely took some getting used to, as Korean women are much less modest in the locker room than they are on the beach. There were naked women in the shower, in the hot tub, and in the sauna, but also walking around, dressing their kids, drying their hair, putting on make-up, talking on cell phones, etc. I was much more bashful than I felt I should be, and when we got out of the pool, the woman in charge of cleaning the locker room angrily gestured at me that I could not wear my dripping wet suit out of the shower room and into the locker room. So I stripped down too and joined the melee.

My swim was pretty good, although I haven't been swimming in a while and I definitely need to get into shape. The pool was a comfortable temperature (which means almost certainly too warm for Keegan), and I only had to share a lane with one other person. Poor Jacki, however, had to share the kiddie pool with approximately the entire child-age population of Geoje Island, all screaming at the top of their lungs. I'm sure she was glad when I finished swimming!

In the evening, Keegan and I went over to the Foreigner's Club for happy hour. There we met Tom and Cliff, a Maine native and a Brit, respectively. They are both older and have both been here for about three months. I really liked both of them, and it was fun to talk to other people who haven't been here for very long. We ended up having dinner with them at the foreigner's club. I had a really delicious omelet - basically just a thin layer of egg around veggie fried rice. After dinner, we agreed to meet Matt and Jacki out for drinks, and we went to a bar to wait for them to put the kids to bed and greet the babysitter. The bar was almost empty when we entered, except for a small group of Koreans, the bartender, and two "bar girls," who were dressed very, very provocatively in short spandex skirts and bikini tops. Keegan and I played pool and darts while we waited for Matt and Jacki and marveled at the attire of the bar girls and other bar patrons.

When Matt and Jacki got there, we moved on to a bar called "Ali Babar." Chuckle, chuckle. Keegan is going to call it the 2x4 bar because the entire bar is covered with 2x4's, sticking out of the ceiling in rows, sticking out of the walls like evenly-spaced scales. Finally we went to a fairly new place called "The Lounge," which was, like everything else these days, weird. The bar was staffed by eight or ten girls dressed in very short, very low-cut sequined dresses with neon light-up nametags. They seemed to be there not just to ferry drinks, but also to flirt with the single men in the bar. I had a hard time not staring at them when they interacted with the male patrons. The Lounge had a dance floor (empty), video golf (played with real golf clubs - you hit the ball at a big movie screen), three or four pool tables, and a foosball table. We enjoyed the chance to get to know Matt and Jacki a little better, and they told us about their planned trip to the Olympics next month, which sounds really exciting!

Today was a quieter day - we slept late and then did some shopping in the afternoon. We got some plants for the apartment, and they really make the place look more homey and more lived-in. They were expensive, though, so I have lots of motivation to make sure we don't kill them! Tomorrow is our first hash run with the Koje Hash House Harriers. I've never done a hash before, so it will be another new experience!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Another Week Zips By

This week has gone by so quickly!  Monday and Tuesday were sick days for me, where I mostly just read and surfed the Internet and waited to stop feeling icky.  

On Wednesday, I was all set to catch the bus in Okpo for another coffee with Glenda and the E. European contingent when Keegan called to tell me that I needed to wait for Mr. Go to come by to pick up his passport, which for some reason was needed to continue processing our air freight shipment.  I was so discouraged because I had been really looking forward to getting out of the apartment, but I also didn't want to stand in the way of our air freight's arrival.  So I called Glenda to tell her that I couldn't come to coffee, and she was really sweet.  She understood immediately that I was cooped up and disappointed, and she volunteered to bring out lunch and eat with me here and then ride the bus into town with me and go shopping.  I was really grateful to her.

For lunch we had some premade items from the supermarket - kimbap, which is like sushi-lite - no raw fish involved; rice wrapped in fried egg (mmmmmm!); and Korean sandwiches, which are made on the analogy of the sushi wrap - bread rolled around egg salad and cheese and then cut into little sushi like discs and held together with saran wrap.  To drink, we had "cider," which is actually a Sprite-like soda with a kind of tonick-y taste.  

After lunch and the passport handover, we went back into town to get some things at the grocery store.  It was so hot walking around in the town that at first I had to just stand zombie-like in the cool yogurt section before finally coming into my own.  I am glad that I regained my senses though because looking around the upstairs section of the supermarket was pretty funny.  First of all, in the housewares section, they had lots of linens with the word "Booby" embroidered on them.  Glenda and I got a good laugh out of that and decided we needed some "Booby" kitchen towels and tablecloths.  Then I started looking around at the labels for the sections of the store, and the bedding section had been mislabeled "Badding."  Don't know what you'd find in the badding section, but it doesn't sound good.  There was also a sign, above things like lamps and clocks and such, that said "Props."  If I ever need to put on a play with realistic clocks and lamps, I will know where to go.

On the way home, I ran into a problem with my taxi driver.  The vowel in the first syllable of our village's name is difficult for Americans to pronounce, and I've had trouble communicating with another taxi driver as well (although I can't imagine that that one vowel is making the village name totally incomprehensible?).  We started driving on a route that I did not think would take us to Doekpo, and pretty soon I was sure we were headed in the wrong direction.  So I told the taxi driver and after much back and forth, we finally got it right.  He turned around and headed to our apartment building.  The fare, of course, was much more than usual, but I prepared to pay the bill since I figured it was my fault for not redirecting him sooner.  But he very courteously gave me lots of change, enough so that I only paid what I usually do to ride home.  I thought that was remarkably honest of him.

In the evening, we went out for dinner to celebrate the 30th birthday of one of Keegan's former classmates.  We ate in a tiny brick-oven pizza restaurant, and the pizza was actually quite good, although it was very expensive.  The mushrooms here are to die for, so the mushroom pizza was particularly delectable.  There was the usual odd mixture of Koreans, Americans, and also a Greek and an Egyptian.  Everyone was very nice.  After dinner, we went to a bar called "Hooligan's" where we played electronic darts and pool.  When we got there, we were the only people there besides the bartender, and we just got our own drinks out of the refrigerator.  Everything was very casual.

Today I went to lunch at Quizno's, a favorite for Westerners, with Jacki and her kids and Glenda, and in the afternoon, our air freight finally arrived!  It was brought to the door by a young Korean man who looked all of 16.  He brought boxes in while I checked them off, and the whole process didn't take long at all.  Keegan got off work a bit early, and he and I spent the afternoon unpacking things.  We didn't find anything broken, and we are so happy to have the new computer and lots of books and DVDs to enjoy.  Now we'll have to say "If only the surface freight were here!"  It's due to arrive on August 22.

To close, here are a few more Korean Oddities:
  • There is a drink here called "Pocari Sweat."  Tempting, huh?  Well, we were tempted and tried some.  It's like Gatorade.
  • Today at the bus stop, I saw a teenage boy carrying a tote bag emblazoned with adorable pigs holding hands.  They are, according to the same tote bag, "Pigi and Pogi:  Small and so cute pigs."
  • Yesterday on the street with Glenda, I actually squealed in disgust when we came upon a woman selling, among other, perfectly palatable foods, a basin full of live, squirming, slithering, writhing eel-y things.  Sorry, for the loud "EWWW!", ma'am.  I couldn't control my EW reflex.
  • There is a school here called the "Butter School of English."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Our First Real Weekend

Our first real weekend in Korea (last weekend doesn't count because we were jet-lagged and overwhelmed) was both fun and interesting. On Saturday, we decided that we'd visit the nice beach that our more experienced friends recommended. It's called Gujora Beach, and it's a bit south from where we are here. It's larger than our beach, but also sandy as opposed to pebbly, and apparently cleaner. The water was pretty cold, but it felt refreshing after even brief interludes of the beaming sun. It was mostly overcast, but not yet rainy or windy. One thing we noticed was that Koreans do not have the same ideas about swimwear that we do. I only saw two Korean women wearing swimsuits without shirts and/or shorts over them, and those were both one pieces, one of which had a modest skirt on it. Many of the girls were wearing bikinis under oversize white shirts that were basically see-through when wet, but you can imagine that I still stood out with my white skin and my skimpy bikini. There were a few more men wearing regular bathing suits, but most of them also had on t-shirts and/or regular shorts too. Fortunately for my self-consciousness, a couple of other foreign women arrived and dressed what we would consider normally.

The beach floor was also different than what we're used to. I learned why so many Koreans had rented bright yellow inner tubes to float around in: walking into the ocean slowly can be treacherous. Under the water, fairly close to shore is a band of fairly large rocks (maybe about the size of grapefruits) that are not only hard to walk on, but also get thrown around a bit by the waves. So if you're not careful, you might have a rock land on your toes, or get jostled so that you put your foot down on a not-so-felicitous spot. But we survived and managed to enjoy swimming around a few times in between roasting sessions on the shore.

After we left the beach, we decided to drive a bit further south on the island. We enjoyed some amazing views of the water and some hilly islands, and Keegan particularly enjoyed driving on the windy roads. We ended up stopping at a place called Haegumgang, which is an island with huge rocky cliffs. We didn't actually go out to the island - there is a boat tour that goes past it, but I don't know if it's possible to actually get onto the sheer cliffs of the island - but we had some lemonade and looked at the glorious view. And then we got really brave and decided to go to one of the many traditional and wholly un-touristy Korean restaurants that filled the little town on the mainland. We went inside and saw that there was no English translation on the menu. Our waitress stood impatiently while I strained to recognize anything familiar in the Korean letters. Finally, I realized that there were two variations of bim bap, which was familiar because it's what my Korean tutor had when we went to the Korean restaurant in the States. I was very proud of myself because the waitress understood my kindergarten-like reading of the menu item! She brought us two bowls of vegetables and an unidentified, raw, orange fishy substance, two bowls of rice, and the usual assortment of Korean side dishes. The vegetables included red cabbage, lettuce, and dried seaweed. We also got a big bowl of mussels, in their shells, floating in a jalapeno broth. Surprisingly, I found those most tasty and only slightly spicy. After a false start involving gingerly eating some rice and a few veggies from their separate bowls, some helpful and undeniably amused Korean young people (probably in their 20's) told us to "Mix! Mix!" and put the rice into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients and stir it all around. It was tastier all mixed together, although I didn't care for the fishy (ha! in more ways than one!) orange substance. About halfway through our meal, we also got some fried egg to add to our bowls, and when we were finished, we got some fresh watermelon. All in all the meal wasn't bad, and we felt very adventurous!

After our lunch we walked around the town a little more, and even out onto some rocks which provided a striking view of the island (don't worry, parents, we stayed far above the rough and unpredictable surf). Then we drove back home and went for a run up to the exercise park I mentioned before. By the time we were back and showered, we were so exhausted that we decided just to get pizza for dinner. Of course, even a visit to Domino's is an adventure because we had the option to get roast potato pizza, seafood and rotini pizza, bulgogi (Korean ribs, but looked like hamburger to me) pizza, and various other unusual choices. We ended up getting half and half - cheese for me, and bulgogi for Keegan. We also bought a video cable that allows us to connect the laptop to the TV and thus watch movies downloaded from iTunes on our nice large TV. So we watched "Before the Devil Knows Your Dead" and munched on pizza before falling exhausted into bed.

Yesterday, Sunday, we had our first experience of a typhoon. It didn't hit us directly, but we still got lots of wind and rain, on and off all day. And boy was it a heavy rain! Because we are on the top floor and the roof is sloped, we actually have drainage pipes from the roof running inside our porch and our kitchen, and we could really hear the water rushing through them. We spent most of the day just relaxing in the apartment, but in the afternoon we got bored and decided to go out to find a bicycle for Keegan to ride at the shipyard. He didn't want to get anything too fancy because the bike will be outside a lot and is just needed for getting from point A to point B in the huge shipyard. So we went back to Home Plus and found him a flashy red bike with a basket. Then we drove over to the shipyard to leave the bike and to check out the gym that they have their for employees and their families. It has a basketball gym, a small workout room with treadmills and stairmasters and some weight equipment, and a 25-meter swimming pool. We're trying to figure out ways for me to get some swims in, so it's possible that I could drop Keegan off at work, use the pool, drive home, and then come pick him up in the afternoon. But that gets complicated because he sometimes needs to drive out of the shipyard for various projects. So we'll see. We were impressed with the gym/recreation center - what a nice perk for all the workers.

Today I woke up not feeling so great - I may have eaten something I shouldn't have, or been less careful about tap water than I should have. But at any rate, the day has been very lazy and filled with reading and sleeping. According to the Internet, these things usually last 3-4 days, but hopefully the next few will feel less ucky than this.

Oh, by the way, I found a tourist site with a fairly good map of the island with Roman letters. Check it out!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

An Adventure a Day...

If not more! Yesterday was full of adventures. First, in the morning I walked to a park on the hill in between Doekpo (where we live) and Okpo (where everyone else lives and all the shopping is). Keegan and I had visited the park on Sunday, and I knew that I wanted to try out the exercise equipment there. It was about a 25 minute walk to the park, including a very slow walk up a steep hill in the heat. The exercise equipment is fun - it's a little like those fitness trails that we have in the states, but there are some ingenious machines there, like the leg and arm weight machines that enable you to lift your own body instead of using weights. There are also some really fun machines where you stand on a movable platform and either rotate your body or swing your legs from side to side. I'll have to take more pictures, because it's hard to describe! By the time I walked there, goofed around on the machines, and walked back, I had a good hour's workout. On the way back through the little park in Doekpo, an older Korean woman said something to me and motioned with her hand that she was impressed with how tall I am. I'm huge in Korea.

In the afternoon, Glenda and one of her students, Gloria, came by and took me to a friend's house for "coffee." The friend is Alla, a Ukrainian woman who lives just up the hill from us in a gorgeous little house with a great view of the water. She showed us around and fed us all kinds of Ukrainian traditional food, including buckwheat porridge (I had had this before when I lived with Laryssa in Poland - not bad, like rice but with a bitter taste) and minced chicken with onions and mushrooms. She also had toast with delectable homemade cheese and dill. Mmmmm! After we had eaten a bit, a few more women showed up: Svetlana from Bulgaria (who surprisely looked and sounded like your favorite British granny), Olga from Russia, and Nargis (sp???) from Uzbekistan. Olga has a tremendous sense of humor and regaled us with all sorts of funny stories about her dog Mishka (a chow-chow) and about her encounters with Koreans at the gym and around the island. (Excerpt: "And then...she made some 'sounds.' You know. Gas sounds!") There was a lot of laughter. I certainly don't fit in with this group yet, but I liked them all a lot and hope we'll have a chance to get together for another four-hour coffee and food fest soon.

In the evening, we had yet another social engagement, this time with Glenda and her husband John and Jacki and her husband Matt. Jacki and Matt live in an apartment complex that has a nice outdoor grilling area, and they made all kinds of food on the grill. I was amazed at what they'd managed to put together because I am beginning to see how many stores you have to go to to find all the ingredients for American-style recipes. Jacki and Matt have two young kids, and we enjoyed their antics after dinner, as they rushed to show Keegan and I all of their most prized possessions. I enjoyed spending time with those two families and anticipate that we'll spend even more with them in the future.

Today's adventure involved my first trip on the bus, which went off without a hitch. The bus comes right past our apartment every hour, so it's very convenient, and it was actually quite a nice bus, with air conditioning and a clean, new look. When I took it this afternoon around 1 it wasn't too crowded. I went shopping at the two supermarkets I've been introduced to in Okpo and then struggled through the streets with my heaping shopping bag, looking for the taxi stand for a ride back to Doekpo. Next time I go shopping in town, I will a) bring a large reusable bag (or two) that is easier to carry, b) remember where the taxi stand is and c) not buy so much! More frequent, small trips are the way to go when you're shopping without a car, I must remember. I'm sure I was worth staring at as I struggled through the streets with my heaping bag, looking desperately for taxis and sweating like a pig. But, in the end, my trip was successful, and now we can have baked potatoes for dinner tonight!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


I've posted photos of the apartment and everything you can see from it on flickr. Here's the link to the set:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Trash haiku

The following can be found above the myriad trash containers outside our building:

You know.
Rules the throw away garbage my conscience.

Apparently, the poor frustrated super in our building is on a never-ending crusade to be sure that residents recycle and dispose of each scrap of trash properly. The mixed up state of things that I saw today makes this rather poetic, nonsensical sign quite poignant.

I'm sure it will seem less so when I get yelled at for a trash blunder, as others reportedly have.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

At the Home Plus

Keegan and I did a lot of driving around today seeing the sights. We stopped in at a giant shopping mall, and in the department store, there was a pet store. We were entranced by the two very fuzzy and adorable kittens playing in the window, so we went in to look inside. And there we saw an adult white Persian (or similar with long hair) paws and a yellow tail! When I say orange and yellow, I mean fluorescent orange and yellow, as if the cat's paws and the tip of its tail were dipped in some sort of dye. And all this time I thought a labradoodle was a "designer" animal. Turns out breeding is not necessary, just the tenacity to hold a cat still while you dye it ridiculous colors. Teenage girls came in in droves to ooh and ah, and the poor cat just sat there looking as if it would never recover its dignity. We were seriously sorry not to have the camera!

We made it!

This is my first post from my desk in our new apartment in Doekpo, South Korea. I have a beautiful view of a small beach surrounded by pine-covered hills. We are on the 10th floor, so our view is basically unimpeded by the ramshackle concrete stores and houses that line the small swimming area. Even though it's only 7:15 a.m., we have already seen some people out swimming. Apparently several families are camping at the little beach.

Our apartment is quite nice. Our building was apparently designed for foreigners, but it has several little Korean touches. First of all, when you come through the front door (which opens by code instead of key), you are in a little entrance area where you are expected to leave your shoes. The entrance area opens into a fairly spacious living room with a huge, slightly rounded window, looking out over our nice view of the harbor. As you walk through the living room, to the right you'll see a door to the guest bathroom, which has a tub, shower, toilet, and sink. Next is the kitchen, which is much larger than our kitchen in Norfolk with tons and tons of cabinet space and room for a table (but we think we'll move the table out into the living area in front of the window). Off of the kitchen is a tiny laundry room with washer and dryer. On the far side of the living room, next to the large window, there's an entrance to a little balcony, with large windows that can be slid open or left shut. It has a clothesline and a funny little rope sling that we are supposed to use to lower ourselves down 10 stories in case of fire. Hope we never have to use that! The apartment also has two bedrooms and a study, so we have tons of room! Visitors are welcome! The other little Korean touch in our apartment is the toilet in the master bathroom, which has a little machine attached to the seat, providing a fresh blast of air or water to your backside, after you've finished your business. We laughed hysterically when we tried it out on Friday night.

We've already had a chance to do a lot of exploring. Yesterday we met Keegan's boss, John, and his wife, Glenda, who I had been in touch with before we came. They seem like a really cool couple, and they've been here for almost four years, so they really know the ropes. We also met another of Keegan's co-workers, Matt, his wife Jacki, and their two kids. Matt and Jacki have done several triathlons here in Korea, so they're going to be our source for workout advice and information. Matt and Jacki took the ferry to Pusan for the weekend, and Glenda and John showed us around the town of Okpo, which is just over a large hill from where we live. We saw all kinds of shops, including a grocery store where we bought some provisions and a traditional market, with all kinds of weird seafood items. Here's a rundown:
  • Weirdest thing seen: a tie between what Glenda and John call "sphincter fish" and the underwear stores whose window displays feature male and female mannequins wearing matching underwear. We got a good laugh out of the fancy underwear and a lot of disgust out of the sphincter fish, which looked like a bowl full of squirming hot dogs, with a hole on either end. Yes, they are sold as food.
  • Most delicious thing: our lunch at a Korean restaurant, where we had an appetizer of steamed egg with chives and then a dish with rice and vegetables, followed by a sweet and spicy dessert tea.
  • Most familiar thing: a store run by a woman who apparently provides black market items obtained from the American military base on the cheap - if you want instant Quaker oats and Del Monte canned vegetables, this is the place to go.
  • Cutest thing: a sea turtle with a little upturned pink nose sticking up out of his watery dish. Too bad he was for sale in the food market.
Yesterday afternoon we were so tired when we got home at 3 p.m. that we decided to take a little nap. I woke up to go to the bathroom at 8 p.m. and told Keegan that we'd better get up and try to act like normal people for a while before going to bed at a reasonable time. But we were both so tired that we went back to sleep. We woke up around midnight feeling energized and ready to face the day. But we forced ourselves to go back to sleep and finally got up around 5 a.m. I've never been quite this jet-lagged before!

Since we were up so early, we decided to take a little walk along one of the hiking trails near our apartment. It is not that hot, but incredibly humid, so as soon as we started walking uphill, we were drenched in sweat. There were some nice views, though, and we saw a crab (yes, on the hiking trail), and a toad, and a really funny looking long earthworm that Keegan said is probably a delicacy. We thought that we'd climb to the war memorial that we can see from our apartment window, but when we got there, the path was blocked by an impassable gate with barbed wire. Why would they block off the supposed destination of the trail? We'll never know.

I think we'll spend the rest of today unpacking and exploring a little more. We may also head back to the grocery since we were disoriented and ill-prepared when we went yesterday and as a result have nothing to eat here. We also got our car yesterday, so we may drive around a little more to explore the rest of the island.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On Our Way

What a crazy week! Keegan finished with work last Wednesday, and on Thursday we had a great visit to Charlottesville to drop of a car and trailer with Sue and Steve and to enjoy the pool one last time. We stopped on the way home to visit Emily and Tony and co., and there we picked up a delightful summertime cold, which apparently we will now export to South Korea. Ryan says we may end up in quarantine with all the dogs and cats.

We spent the weekend prepping the house for the movers to come on Monday, and since then we've been in a weird kind of limbo. We've spent each day sitting on the futon reading or milling around anxiously while a crew of industrious people wrangles all of our worldly possessions into boxes. On Monday, two men packed up and loaded all of our air and surface shipments. Then on Tuesday, two women came to pack up all of our other stuff in boxes, another all-day task. Finally, today, three men showed up to wrap everything, including furniture, and load it into six giant wooden crates on the back of a semi. Now our house is completely empty, and our four enormous suitcases are packed, and we are leaving TOMORROW! Wish us luck! By the next time I write, I'll have lots to report!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Saying Our Good-byes

I have to say that the past few weeks have been pretty difficult. We are in a whirlwind of last-minute preparations, and we've been saying a lot of good-byes. I have seen my parents for the last time before we leave, and have also said good-bye to my best friend Jamie and my best cat Herman. I've also had lunch with lots of old co-workers - I have to say that they people I've met here, both at the ODU library and at the VA Beach Adult Learning Center, have been truly amazing. It's always hard to move to a new town, but in less than a year I've managed to meet some absolutely hilarious, kind, intelligent, and generally awesome people. I just want everyone to know that I appreciate my luck.

We also had a going away party this past weekend at our friends' Ryan and Trinie's house. They put on quite a party, and we saw a lot of Keegan's fellow Kingspoint grads there. Ryan and Ed, two of Keegan's groomsmen, have both left town, Ed for his new assignment in San Diego and Ryan to help Trinie's sister with a cross-country move. So we won't get to see either of them again before our departure. It was hard to say good-bye to them on Monday night when they stopped by for a last-minute chat.

But I have to say (don't be offended dear friends and family!) that the hardest parting so far has been with little Hermi-cat, who is now safe in the care of Jamie. I shed many a tear when I carried him downstairs for the last time and when I looked at his little white paws so neatly folded under him in the cat carrier. And I miss him like the dickens. He was my baby for three years - now I have some insight into why our parents are so upset that we are moving so far away for so long!

Tomorrow we are planning a trip to Charlottesville for still more good-byes, this time with Keegan's parents and with Emily and Tony. I can only hope that by the time we've been in Korea for three years, we'll have as many wonderful people to say good-bye to there.