Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sunday in Itaewon

Sunday we slept in and ate pancakes.  In early afternoon, we met some girls and took off for Itaewon, the foreigner district of Seoul. The one with the plethora of ethnic restaurants.  We set out with Indian food in mind - curry, naan, and mango lassis. Yes, PLEASE.  An hour of subway travel landed us on the edge of Itaewon, where unlike the rest of South Korea, you are bombarded with the English language.  Restaurants, boutiques, and coffee shops have catchy little English names.  Bits of conversation caught from passersby are comprehensible.  Every block or so, there are maps of the district exclusively in English.  Rumor has it, there's even a bookstore with books in English.  This rumor was enough to convince Kyle to join in on a girls' day out.

Three or four blocks from the subway station we came across a rather tempting restaurant entrance.  Luckily it was an Indian restaurant, so we made our way down the dungeon stairway.

Whitney, Rebecca, Denver, Eden, and Caitlin in front of Agra

Heading down the medieval stairwell

Having no idea what we had committed to, we rounded the corner, marched past rows of wine racks, and requested a table for eight.  The Indian waitress led us to a separate little room that was gorgeously decorated.  A chandelier draped with tassels hung from the ceiling.  Classic pieces of artwork covered the walls, and intricately carved chairs and a love seat surrounded the table.

Our exclusive room

Rebecca and Whitney poring over the menu
Most of us ordered Today's Surprise Lunch, which included no surprises; you chose all the components.  The first course was a green salad with fresh vegetables and a yogurt dressing.

Crisp and delicious!

Kyle ordered the palak paneer, spinach curry with tofu-like cheese cubes, and I ordered my favorite chicken tikka masala with a mango lassi to wash it down.

Palak paneer with basmati rice and naan

Chicken tikka masala with a mango lassi
I wanted to but refrained from licking my plate. 

A cup of weak coffee topped off the meal, and with our bellies full, we climbed past the stone walls into the shining sun.  We headed for the rumored bookstore, What The Book?, and encountered several photo opportunities.

Mt. Namsan with the North Seoul Tower, the only point from which you can see all of Seoul

Coffee and soup

Giddy up in Korea
No excuses for homesickness in Itaewon

Downtown Seoul in the distance

No caption necessary

Just for you, Cath!

After asking the workers at Quiznos, we re-routed and arrived at What The Book? I think I saw a tear roll down Kyle's cheek.  We spent a good hour roaming around but left empty-handed.  Next paycheck.

We stopped last at a coffe and waffle shop, enjoyed our beverages then made the long trek home to Bupyeong.  I loved Itaewon so much, I want to make Sunday visits a tradition!

On the ride home, all smiles before our politcal debating started..

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Preschool Fun Days

Each month in preschool we have some special activities.  We celebrate birthdays, have a cooking day, and go on a field trip.  On March 20, we celebrated all the March birthdays in Bear and Calf class.  We spent a half hour partying, where we sang, gave the birthday kids a book of cards, and consumed cake and snacks.  This is one day where parents can send in treats for the class, and they really take advantage of that opportunity.  Some months, there are three or even four birthdays in a month, so there is a ton of food.  We had one birthday in Bear class, and two in Calf this month. Here are some pictures from the celebrations:
My co-teacher Iryne and me in Bear Class

Bear Class celebrates

Singing "Happy Birthday" in Calf Class

Celebrations in Calf Class
Birthday card book!

This month on cooking day we made jam and banana sandwiches (some kids are allergic to nuts, so no peanut butter).  We show the kids the steps in preparing the food, then they make a huge mess in attempting to make it themselves.  They really enjoy it, and they bring in their own aprons and cooking garb for the event.

Slicing bananas

Spreading the jam
The chefs in Calf Class

This month's field trip was at Butterfly Park.  Unfortunately it's still too cold to see the butterflies in the park, but instead we took a tour through a small museum with both live and preserved animals.  Before the tour, the kids sat in an auditorium watching a Korean cartoon about ecological preservation.  It was similar to those Disney and Pixar movies that try and include messages about conservarion, but on a much larger scale.  In fact, it was quite disturbing, and I couldn't even understand the dialogue...For a 20-minute movie, there was a lot of death, violence, and odd spiritual scenes. Strangely, the kids only seemed frightened when the lights were turned down. I've heard the Korean folklore is very different from that in the states. Sounds like I have some research to do!

 Looking at creepy crawly bugs in the museum

 She was scared of the beetles, so we moved on to the frogs

Why aren't they this interested in my lessons? :)

After the video and museum tour, we went outside and fed the rabbits some cabbage.  There was also a playground with large-scale musical instruments for the kids.  They ran around banging on barrel drums, xylophones, and weaved through wind chimes.  After the trip, we went back to school for lunch and wrote a Field Trip Report.  This involved tracing the sentence, "We had fun at the park," and trying to get the kids to color a picture of themselves at the park.  Some girls only wanted to draw hearts with smiley faces.  Others just wanted to color the whole box brown and black... Maybe we'll get it next month! Enjoy some more photos of my little ones:

 Bear class friends

 Playing at the musical park

 Feeding the rabbits

Ready to head back for lunch
What a nice couple of breaks we had from the normal school day routines.  Can't wait for the April fun days!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bupyeong Farmers' Market

I'm having a difficult time remembering to bring shopping bags to the store.  At Lotte Mart, you can bring your own bags or buy them for 600 won a pop.  This encourages you to buy reusable bags and not use 10-20 plastic bags each trip.  On Sunday morning, Kyle and I set out to buy produce from the outdoor market in Bupyeong.  It's a good 20 minute walk, and halfway down the road, I looked at Kyle. We forgot the bags. Again.

Oh well.  We kept trekking and opted for limiting our purchases to only a few items.  We weren't sure exactly where this so-called market was held.  We knew it was in the general vicinity of Bupyeong Station, so we figured we'd stumble upon it eventually.  We walked all around the station with no success.  We headed toward the shopping/bar section of Bupyeong that's become familiar most Friday and Saturday nights.  There was a lot of street vending, but no produce to be seen.  After an hour of unsuccessful searching, we thought we'd grab a coffee and call it a day.  We decided to make our way to the end of the road then loop back around to Starbucks.  Kyle said no to Chocolate Cafe, Cupcake Cafe, and Kitten Coffee.

At the end of the road, there was a curious looking alleyway.  Let's just check this one last spot...

Maybe down this way...?

Just around the corner, there were rows and rows of umbrellas, tents, carts, baskets, and FOOD!  We found it!

We walked down the street peering into each basket and crate. We crossed the street, then walked up the other side with our eyes glued to the displays.  Off the main drag, even the curving alley ways were filled with vendors.  Our senses were on overload.

Some typical street food tempura style

Gorgeous potted flowers
The freshest seafood around - still swimming!

An assortment of dried beans
Various pig parts, including the head

Larvae: a protein-packed snack
Freshly caught fish on ice
More pig pieces: feet, ribs, legs, etc.
Navigating the narrow paths through all the stands was quite overwhelming! You'd be gawking over some gorgeously plump strawberries, when suddenly you're hit in the face with the stench of raw fish.  Or you'd be pondering the purchase of almonds vs. walnuts, then you peer into the next barrel and find it full of larvae.  We saw entire hindquarters of cows sliced open at the hips, sting rays cut into slabs, rows of whole chickens piled high, and squid with their tentacles draped to the ground.

I expected the Korean vendors to be aggressive, but typically, the tenant was an older woman slouched in a lounge chair, who pulled herself up only if you were making a purchase.  My mid-western American manners urged me to smile and nod at them as I photographed their goods, but they just shook their heads at me, laughing.

In the end, our feeble arms could only carry a few carrots, a head of lettuce, and some oranges.  The carrots were the biggest I've ever seen - at least 3 inches in diameter!

Enormous, delicious carrots
Bright and juicy oranges
My ability to communicate in Korean is still non-existent.  I couldn't quite make out the sign for the oranges, so I picked up four, handed them to the vendor and asked how much? His eyes shifted, and he said quickly, "5,000 won."  I handed him the bill, then walked on.  Kyle said, "I think the sign meant 5 for 5,000 won, but you only got 4.  I think he just ripped us off."  Stupid Americans.  We spent the walk home arguing over whether or not we just got swindled.  We'll be back next weekend ready to haggle, as soon as I learn the Korean number systems (yes, there are two, depending on what you're counting). I'll also bring shopping bags.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

St. Patrick's Day, Seoul 2012

After scarfing down some green and white shamrock-sprinkled Entenmann's chocolate donuts (courtesy of Aunt Deb's AMAZING care package), Kyle and I headed for the apartment lobby.  We met a bunch of the other teachers then walked to the subway station.  Two overcrowded and overheated train rides later, the station spit us out onto the streets of Seoul. We climbed out of the dark underground, up the stairs and into the beautiful St. Patrick's Day weather.  Looking around, we realized we were, for the first time since arriving in Korea, not the only white people in sight.  In fact, it looked like we had stumbled into a giant tailgate party back in the states.  We walked by keg stands and beer can towers, taking in the smells of college- heavy cologne and stale beer.

We headed across the street to the 7-11 convenient store and bought some beer.  There are no laws about open containers in Korea, so we cracked open the brews and headed back to the festival.  A large crowd gathered in an outdoor theater called the D-Cube Plaza and watched a group of Koreans perform traditional Irish dances.  We found a few open benches and settled in. 

Koreans doing some Irish dancing
The crowd was full of Westerners decked out in green.  There were "Kiss me I'm Irish" t-shirts, plastic green sunglasses, leprechaun hats, green beers, Irish flags painted on cheeks, bright orange wigs, Guinness hats, and St. Patrick's Day balloons.

As we sipped on, a Korean U2 tribute band took the stage called Have No Name.  The lead singer bounced around, passionately belting out lyrics, sounding not too unlike Bono.  The crowd loosened up and began singing and dancing along.  More and more foreigners arrived, filling up the plaza.
U2 tribute band performing, "Sunday Bloody Sunday"

An Irish band performed next, and more Irish dancing took place involving volunteers from the audience.  After a few hours, we decided it was time for some grub.  We had a few failed attempts before we found a restaurant serving chicken and beer.  We devoured every morsel then headed back to the festival.

A few more Irish bands performed, people started getting really rowdy, shaking up beer cans and spraying the crowd.  The festivities ended just after 6:00, so we headed back down to the subway and caught the train to Itaewon, the foreigner district of Seoul.  We travelled past seven or eight stops, long enough for Kyle to get a few more pages in, while I continued drinking.

Unlike Incheon, which has a few Italian restaurants amidst hundreds of Korean restaurants, Itaewon has many different cuisines to offer- Korean, Greek, Japanese, Turkish, Indian, Mexican, Irish, you name it.  I even saw a three-story Taco Bell!

We went to a bar called Bulldog's for their unbelievable St. Patrick's Day deals. 

Irish Car Bomb: $6 (normally $12!)
Guinness on tap: $5 (normally $9!)
Jameson on the rocks: $5
One shot of Baileys: $4

A few rounds of Irish car bombs were quickly consumed, and we sat enjoying the 80's music videos being blasted, which included The Bangles, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and Abba.

It goes without saying that if anyone anywhere within 200 yards of Kyle is smoking a cigar, he sniffs it out.  A few guys were smoking at Bulldog's, and after a few car bombs, Kyle got brave enough to inquire.  He came back a few moments later, tapping me on the shoulder and whooping in joy.  The bar not only had great deals on alcohol, it sold overpriced cigars.  Another round of car bombs to celebrate, please!
Kyle's first cigar in Korea

Some new friends in Korea

The Irish car bomb remains

Happy St. Patrick's Day!