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Published: December 31st 2010
I am curious as to what might intrigue the interest of my journal readers most. Will it be my internal growth and development as an individual along the way or will it be my bloopers and blunders as I as an American foreigner forge my way in this unfamiliar territory?? Yes I am definitely the foreigner here in this beautiful country.
As many have already seen on my FB postings my journey has been both challenging and funny all at the same time. My stories to be told may bring tears of joy to some and tears of sadness to others. The hopes are that you will grow with me along the way. I believe that God takes each of us on a variety of adventures so that we may expand beyond our capacity of understanding. From these experiences we are humbled, shaped and modeled so that we might help mankind in some fashion.
AIR TRAVEL-Let me begin my adventure. In the U.S. as we tried to obtain our plane tickets at the counter the opportunity arose that I did not have a travel VISA. The airline requirements are that if you are visiting a country no VISA is required, however, if you are planning to reside there a VISA must be obtained. My husband tried his best to help with this situation. I so admire his patience in dealing with tough situations. We ended up not making our flight and had to reschedule for the following day. This was to our advantage as this meant we were able to have one more day with our family in WA. This was truly a blessing for all of us. On Dec 3rd we left the US on a 14 hour flight. We arrived the same day in Incheon Airport. I found it amazing to leave and arrive on the same day in daylight. After being awake for nearly 25 hours we found rest in our new temporary home. It really was not as I had pictured. This full-serviced apartment is quit warm and inviting. A bit small in regards to our storage needs, but I find you make do with you have to work with.
My husband soon returned to work and now I find myself engulfed in the journey as foreigner who speaks no Korean, nor has any idea where I am. Seriously, it can be at times intimidating. Your mind tries to limit your abilities if you allow for yourself to find reasons why not to take on the challenges of going outside of your familiar space. Some days I get up get all dressed up and soon feel defeated. Those are the times I fight to overcome the feeling of aloneness.
The fun really begins when I step out the door and begin to embrace with a positive attitude.
INSADONG MARKET-My first few times of wandering out of the door to Insadong Market is how my memorable journeys began. I found these young men making a special Korean candy treat. They enlightened me with their singing as they worked diligently to make this candy out of strands of honey. The talent and joy they displayed was so fun! I added this taping to my journal. As you walk around you will find so many vendors selling similar items. Some selling gift bags, bookmarkers and trinkets. Others selling, shoes, food, socks, hats, scarfs and a variety of other things. As I try to communicate I find the language barrier to be much more of an issue than I ever imagined. Soon I resort to bowing alot and repeating the Korean words of hello, goodbye and thank you. I have even tried some hand gestures to hlep communicate my inquires. It would be hilarious to have a video of these transactions. The Koreans must view the blond alien as a comedy act. Wish you were a fly on the wall...?
Now I understand how critical it is to learn write Hanguel and speak Korean. This will be so valuable to my success in adapting to live here.
SHOPPING-Our very first shopping adventure took a subway and bus ride to get there. It was a Costco that my husband & I felt would be familiar territory. Did I say familiar? What were we thinking? Started out needing to pay to get a membership card, remember very few speak nor understand English and we are packed in like sardines trying to reach the can first. Then we acquire our Costco card, now we need to figure out just how to get won to pay for our purchases. My husband found the debit machine, yippee. Then on to get a cart. This must be what it feels like to shop on black Friday. Oh my goodness!!! We find this Korean Costco to have a large number of floors, so yes there are escalators for shopping carts that take you up and down to the various floors. See the video for more indepth details. We acquired two small boxes of items that cost close to $150,000 won. Not so sure we plan to visit there again. The next shopping adventures involved me going it alone. I went to the E-Mart, where here I encountered a culture shock of all the products looking so similiar. The labels are all written in Korean. I must tell you this can be overwhelming. I had decided to search for air fresherner. I see these containers that resemble those in the states. Again I feel a sense of accomplishment. As I pickup the container and view more closely to my surprise there is a picture of a mosquito with and X across it. Oh my...I could have killed more than mosquitos in our apartment. The search continued in my days ahead to find air freshner. I have now found a place that is eaiser for me to shop, it is called the Lotte Mart and yes I found a Yankee candle that I really enjoy. It reminds me of home each time I light it.
SUBWAY-Understanding the subway is a whole other adventure in itself. The first thing I learned was how to gain access to the subway trains. I walked up to a machine similar to a slot machine. All the writing was in Hanguel, so now I had to figure out what to do. I begin pushing buttons and decide I am going to get a T-Mobile Card (this looks more like a USB than a card). I put in 10,000 won, it spits out a box and 5,000 w, which inside I find the T-card. Now I think to myself, awesome you did it. So I lay my card on the top of the turnstyle counter to enter and mine does not turn. Oh my goodness now I am holding up the line and attempt this process 3 more times (stess......eeeekkk). A stranger takes my card and tries, no luck. Ok, so I step out of the way and return to the machine once again thinking I must have missed a step. I see on the machine a flat surface shaped like the T-card. My mind tells me to lay the card on the surface. I do this and then it asks me for 5,000 won. I enter the $5000 and wallah it takes my money and now I attempt to enter again through the turnstyle. Yes, I'm in.
Ever wonder why mom or dad took you on camping trips in the wilderness? I believe it is to prepare you for these types of adventures. The subway tunnel exit and entry points to your destination can be compared to the variety of trails you found while out exploring the wilderness. Each trail has a variety of twists and turns that are very different. The subway entries and exits take you in and out various streets all that look very unfamiliar to me. Some advanced hikers mark the trails with a specific markings to help them along the way. My goal is to become familiar with the various streets that I can use as markers for my entry and exit points. It will also be helpful to read in Hanguel.
Once your into the subway tunnel the real fun begins. First I suggest to have your route planned so that you can get onto the correct subway going in the right direction. For me, even with the route and correct subway number it can be a bit of a challenge finding the train going in the right direction to your destination. The tunnel walls with arrows are very confusing. I am learning to disregard the arrows and only look for the key name of the beginning location I need to get to. Once on the subway you must watch carefully for the stop number or the location where you want to exit. Some of the trains have a number in English and Hanguel, others will have only Hanguel. This is why it is important to stay calm and confident.
FOOD-My husband took me to a resturaunt that he had visited prior to my coming here (safe bet). He introduced to me to a variety of new Korean cruisine. Let me not forget the Soju shots with Casa Beer as a chaser. Wow, this was defintely different. Some of the foods I really enjoy and others not so much. I knew this was going to take some getting used to. Since then, I have tried raw oysters, a variety of cooked fish, octopus, mussels and so many other things that I am not sure I can yet identify. The variety of vegetables is amazing, some of them I really enjoy. Not sure if it is simply because I am so hungry or that I am now acquiring a taste for Korean food. Either way I am enjoying my journey of change. My experience with metal chopsticks has been really fun to observe. I had gone to lunch with two Korean co-workers on my husbands team. At this lunch I learned two valuable lessons, 1st never use your left hand for anything and 2nd use your chopsticks wisely. We were served peeled Asian pears and my thoughts were I could use my chopsticks to eat a sliced piece of pear. Oh my, my determination was there however, my skill sets were not. I picked up the pear beautifully and then to my surprise the pear slipped out and slide across the table. One of my Korean hosts immediately ask the waitress to provide me with a fork, repeating to me, Fork, Fork. So I began to pickup the Fork with my left had, the host came across the table abruptly and removed the fork out my hand and then placed on the right of my plate. Immediately I realized I had picked up the fork with my left hand. Embarrassed I bowed repeatedly, stating 'sorry Mr...., sorry Mr.....oh how embarrassed I felt. Then determined to still pickup the pear with the chopsticks I found it only to slide around on the table, so I resorted to the fork. I watched carefully as my hosts ate their pear with the chopstick. Learning that you can poke it and pick it up for biting. This was a quick 101 lesson in eating a sliced pear. We laughed alot and enjoyed this time of my educational adventure.
CLOTHING-Seoul is an amazing hub for the styles that I envision Sarah Jessica Parker to wearing. The women and men dress with exquisite taste. The men in nice suits, dress pants, sweaters and trench coat jackets. The womens attire generally consists of Stilettos or boots with heels, form fitted dresses, sweaters, insulated leggings or tights. Did I say form fitting, oh my, for me it feels like having a girdle on your waist and butt and legs wrapped in tight saran wrap. This might be another hidden secret to weight loss. The Korean women in general are very thin and simply adorable. My experiences with sizes has been interesting. Have you purchased a pair of panty hose that will only come up to just above your knees. This was my first venture in buying tights. No matter how much I tried to stretch those darn tights I concluded that there was no way they going to cover my thighs, nor my bum. I have seen a variety of size indicators on the clothing. Sizes small, medium, large, 55, 66, 77 etc. so who is to say what size I wear here. Over time I am confident I will understand the sizes. My boot size was 24. Does a size really matter anyway or is it how well it fits that matters most? Just as we all have different ways of fitting into this world. Does it really matter what our ethnicity is or does it really matter most how well we can adapt and fit into our enviroment which is currently embracing us?
As the New Year for 2011 is soon to begin there will be many more journeys of my future adventures to communicate. Happy New Year to all! May each of you reading this choose to travel on a journey that stretches you beyond your wildest expectations.
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