The past week has seen a lot of everyday activities undertaken here for the first time. I got my hair cut and went to the post office, and last night, we went to the movies here to see the new Batman. None of these things was quite as weird as I expected - maybe I am getting acclimated! The hair cut came out fairly well, and, as a stodgy introvert, I have to say there is something nice about just relaxing in silence rather than racking my brain for innocuous chitchat with the hairdresser. I was nervous about the trip to the post office because I had heard that people there are very pushy and will cut in front of you in line without a second thought. But it wasn't crowded there at all, and I walked right up to a window. Of course, just before I finished my transaction, another woman came up to the same window, put her letter on the scale, and started talking to the woman who was helping me. But I just collected my change and sailed out. The movies were also less odd than expected. We thought they'd have all kinds of crazy food for sale at the concession stand, but no, it was just popcorn and soda and nachos. And the movie was great! Keegan said he barely noticed the subtitles at all, but I amused myself by trying to read key words in them. I could recognize the names written in Korean and some of the briefest lines of dialog (such as: "hello" and "yes").
Our dinner last night before the movie was slightly more interesting. We met up with a friend of Keegan's, Zeke, who he had met at a few ABS training sessions in Houston in the past couple years. Zeke is working for the other shipyard on the island, currently has a hellacious commute every day, and is extremely busy with work, so we haven't had a chance to spend a lot of time with him. But I liked him a lot. He's only been here for a few more months than we have (I think he got here in the spring), and he's clearly very curious about the language and the culture and the food. So we trooped off to find a Korean restaurant that served some dishes that were not beef or pork. We ended up in a fish restaurant, where the waitress recommended a fish combo meal. We weren't exactly sure what we were getting, but it turned out to be grilled fish (whole, with heads and tails and scales and bones), raw fish, and a spicy fish stew. Believe me, if you want a culinary challenge, trying eating a whole fish with nothing but chopsticks and a spoon! But the fish meat was tender, and we were able to pick it slowly off with our chopsticks. I didn't try the spicy soup, since I'm not a big fan of spicy, but I did enjoy making little fish and salad rolls with the basket of lettuce and sesame leaves that they brought. I never tried sesame leaves before, but they are very flavorful. At a Korean restaurant, you never know when you'll get another dish of food, and sure enough, in the middle of the meal, they brought out a plate of spring rolls (my favorite thing I've had here so far - delicious!) and another plate with tofu and mushrooms in a sweet sauce. So we fed the four of us for about $30, which I think was a very good deal.
Another experience this week was trying a punishingly hard running route over the hill to Okpo. Keegan wanted to find a soccer field that Matt had told him about, so we took the "back route" into Okpo, and let me tell you, it was a killer. When was the last time that any of you runners went up a hill that was so steep that you had to stop? For me, it's been a long time. Well, that happened on this hill. Here's how it feels: First, your legs start to burn. Then, your breathing reaches its limit, and your heartbeat skyrockets. Still, you keep jogging, trying to gut it out. Then, you look ahead to see that the hill doesn't end for probably another 200 meters and that if anything, it looks steeper ahead. Then, your brain, desperately trying to talk some sense into you for the benefit of your flailing body, points out to you that at the rate you're jogging, you'd be better off just walking. So you do. At a swift walk, your breathing remains as labored as if you were running the 100 meters, but at least you can maintain the pace up the rest of the grueling climb. Keegan made it to the top on the way out, but on the way back, neither of us could make it up the other side of the hill. Granted, neither of us is in top condition, but this was definitely a surprise.
I've been doing a lot of running and swimming this week, and on Thursday, my day off, I took a walk along my running route to take some pictures of the scenery. I'll post them to flickr soon. I meant to mention that I occasionally get funny comments when running. Keegan and I have gotten the thumbs-up sign from a pair of older Korean ladies out walking, and last week an older man that I passed heading in the opposite direction smiled, gave me the thumbs up, and ran a few steps in solidarity. We also passed a man in his fields who yelled out "one, two, three, four, one two, three, four!" in strict military cadence. I think people are fairly active around here overall, and we've seen lots of people out running and walking, but we are still a sight on the path out to the Buddhist park. I've never seen anyone else running there, although Jacki says that she and Matt come out to run there occasionally.
This week I'll begin my English lessons and we'll try to watch some of the Olympics. I'm also hoping to go for my first bike ride here. I'll try to keep you all posted.