So, it occurs to me that I am total shit at keeping this travelogue updated, and I don't know why that is! I think it's because so much stuff happens and then it becomes overwhelming to think about writing it all...
At any rate, when last I wrote, it was right before my 29th birthday. (Jesus...almost 30!) Unfortunately, I was down for the count the week of my birthday. More stomach problems. I was worried enough to actually go to the emergency room this time. Had the works done (CT scan, x-rays, blood work, EKG, etc...) only to get a diagnosis from the doctor that there was nothing actually wrong with me. This is total bullshit, because there must be something wrong with me if being sick like this totally knocks me out of commission for a week at a time. I just am so frustrated at this point! I believe that it might be gallstones, but the test I really need for that is an ultrasound, and the doctors keep saying I don't need it or that I'm too fat! Katie tells me that an ultrasound or hida scan are the only ways to really diagnose gallstones. So, I still don't feel like I've been adequately evaluated. *sigh*
However, it turns out that even in the midst of feeling like crap, and what with being on the other side of the world and all, I still managed to have a great time on my birthday. This is entirely thanks to the great friends I have here, who went out of their way to make my special day special.
My friend Emma, from England, was the Cooking Class teacher that week, so she made a little chocolate birthday cake for me. She even went above and beyond and made Cadbury chocolate frosting for it! It was delicious, even though I couldn't eat much of it. But as always, it's the thought that counts!
And the presentation was just as thoughtful. I had been hibernating in my room all week, feeling sorry for myself to be sick on my birthday. Then Emma came onto Skype and told me that I had to come over to her room for a little bit. So, I walked over there and as soon as I walked in the door, I was told to close my eyes and walk forward slowly. When I got to the point where I would be able to see around the corner and into the room, Emma said to stand still so that the motion-sensor light overhead would go out. Once it did, she told me to open my eyes, and there before me were her, Ryan, Daniel, and a cake lit up with candles. It was so sweet! Emma even made me a birthday card (she is deeply into card making, in general, and is quite good at it). Overall, it was a surprising and happy birthday.
The weekend after my birthday marked the end of our intensive summer program, so the school held a thank you barbeque for the teachers and staff, just like the one we had when we all first got here. Again, the booze was entirely free, although yours truly abstained as I was still getting over being sick. It made for an amusing evening, watching everyone getting annihilated whilst singing karaoke and dancing like fools. Fortunately, I remembered that I brought my digital video camera with me to Korea, so I now have plenty of crazy blackmail footage involving table dancing, lap dancing, and fall-over drunkenness.
At the end of the night, lots of people went out to the clubs, but some of us were just too old and/or sick to tag along. So, myself, Daniel, Emma, Mary (from MN), Kane, and Eva (both from NZ) decided to hang out around the big fountain for awhile. Kane plays the guitar, sings like Jack Johnson, and looks vaguely like Justin Timberlake, so he should definitely be famous someday. It ended up with him getting his guitar and Emma getting hers, and a little concert ensued.
Eventually, a couple of our bosses and the head Korean teacher, Kyle, came over to play in the fountain (literally, they were shit-faced and splashing each other). Kyle plays the guitar and sings, too, so he ended up borrowing Emma's guitar. He sang us several Korean songs, and he was fantastic! The songs were great, too, like folk music. Some people define coolness by the hip beats a DJ spins, but I think that an impromptu jam session by a fountain can be a far richer way to spend one's evening. Maybe this is my age speaking...and I don't mind.
I got to hear more Korean music the next weekend, on Mary's birthday. We first went out to a special dinner for a meal called "galbi", which means grilled meat, specifically pork in our instance. It's such a neat setup.
We sat outside, around this cluster of small tables. Each table has a hole in the middle, in which is set a rocket-hot bucket of coals. They then place a grill grate over it, and the super-thin pieces of marinated meat on that. You can always spot a galbi restaurant because inside they have long silver exhaust vents dangling over the center of every table. Of course, outside, no vents are needed; the smoke just blows away (mostly right into my eyes).
Supposedly, the true measure of a galbi restaurant is the quality and quantity of side dishes that they offer with the meat. This restaurant had two kinds of pickled radish, a dish of a salad/coleslaw mix, garlic pickles, some kind of seafood soup, a few dipping sauces, and different kinds of lettuce with which to wrap up your meat (no bread here!). It's not a bad way to eat, certainly healthy for you, but I did find myself missing something more substantial to eat with the meat. Also, you have to share all the side dishes with everyone, including the soup. This makes me twitch a little, thinking about everyone's germs mingling...but it's common here, so I try to stifle my phobic tendencies and go with the flow.
Anyway, dinner was great. Afterwards, we wandered through the area (a big place for foreigners to hang out, called Hongdae), looking for a bar. We ended up at a place called Tin Pan Alley. It was fantastic! Groovy R&B was playing when we came in, which set a nice, smooth tone to the evening. And the DJ actually let us request music, which was unusual, but sweet. We had some drinks, and split a couple orders of cheese sticks and nachos (I told you this area was for foreigners!). After an hour or so, the place started to fill up with westerners. Soon, you couldn't move because all available floor space was being used for dancing. Everywhere you looked, the people were white. It was a little weird! But the music was great. When we left, they had just got done playing some old favorites-"Uptown Girl", "Like a Prayer", etc...
We decided that we should go somewhere else, and Kyle suggested that we try this tiny bar that he always goes to. So, Kyle, Mary, Daniel, and I went there. I would never have even see the door to this place if I had been walking down the street by myself, let alone have gone in. It was clearly a "locals only" type of joint. I'm so glad we went!
There were two rooms, front and back, but people were only sitting in the front room. I say room, but really, it was more like a generous sized closet. The entire space (both rooms) was probably only slightly larger than my room here. In the front room, there were two tables. Because Kyle is a regular, we were invited to sit at the main table with the three other regulars who were already there. Two men and a woman, plus the woman who ran the place. There were some snacks in the middle of the table, dried fish, purple grapes, and peanuts. (The grapes here are amazing...they taste just like a little burst of Welch's grape juice. Of course, they have seeds, which can be annoying if you forget and just crunch into one.)
Anyway, we ordered some beers and went through the complicated ritual of pouring. You are never supposed to pour your own drink, only your friends' drinks. And if you're younger than them, you must hold the bottle with both hands, etc...
After awhile, Kyle was asked to sing. A guitar magically appeared from somewhere and, despite being fairly intoxicated, he started in. Wow, he can really sing. There are about 8 clips on here from that night (my camera only records 30 seconds at a time, unfortunately), and I urge you to watch all of them (they can sometimes take a long time to start, but don't give up!). They are dark, because the light in this place was very low, but you can hear Kyle singing crystal clear. He's so good!
Eventually, one of the other regulars started singing, too. The lady who owns the joint started pulling musical instruments out of god knows where so that we could all play along. I got the tambourine, my friends got some wooden sticks and a washboard. One guy was playing bongos. It was fucking amazing. Even though we didn't know the words to the songs, we were all pretty decent at keeping the beat. :-)
I would NEVER have had this experience as a regular tourist in Seoul. 3 Americans in a tiny bar with 5 or 6 Koreans and some lively music. I'm so grateful that Kyle thought enough of us to let us come to such a small, personal place with him. I'll always remember that night when I think of my time in Korea.
Anyway, there's lots of other stuff to talk about, but I'm going to leave off for now. Hopefully you'll be getting another post from me soon! Take care everyone!