A day of rest


FRIDAY

Well, It took me awhile to get up and around and finished putting my stuff away.  Left around noon to search for my missing credit card.  Found Idae just fine, but could only pinpoint the shop where I bought my coat.  Had to mime losing a credit card to three employees who insisted they didn’t have anything.  Then had to mime asking them to rummage through their desk to look.  They gave me spare coat buttons and sent me on my way.  Turns out the card was in my rear pants pocket all along! The one place I had forgotten to check.  Relieved, I wandered around shopping street in Idae and let myself get lost all around Ewha Women’s University.  Even splurged and had a Dunkin Donut.

Stopped at a half dozen shoe places looking for walking shoes, since I brought mostly high heeled boots or shoes with princess heels on them.  The paving pattern on the sidewalks is constantly changing materials and texture, and is often cobbled together.  And most young women here are wearing 3″-4″ stillettos.  It’s absolutely insane.

My greatest fear here is one of those girls will fall off her heels on the steps down to the subway platforms.  The steps are beyond wide at the bigger transfer stations, there are no middle hand rails, and it would only take one little girl to start a domino pile-up of human bodies crushing each other to death.

There’s something strange about the pedestrian traffic patterns underground.  They are walking to the left underground, while above ground it is what you or I are used to, walking to the right.  Mi-Young said that this is what they do in Japan, and for some reason also what they do in Korea.  The confusing thing is that I can’t always figure out when this walking to the left begins.  Sometimes it seems to begin as soon as you descend the stairs leading down to the subway, sometimes it seems to not begin until once you are down one level.  It is also customary to stand to the far right while walking to the left, so that those in a hurry can zip past you.  Yet with all of these location rules, the handrails are still at the outer walls.  So just to play it safe, I find myself walking down the middle of the steps, which could be construed as walking to the left but staying courteously to the right OR which could be construed as walking to the right.  For custom’s sake, it’s easier to just walk down the middle when I’m not sure, but hell if it’s not harder because there’s nothing to hold onto.  So…if I can avoid wearing heels while traveling on the subways in Seoul, you bet I’m going to.  Screw looking fashionable.

The only thing remotely close to walking comfort seemed to be UGG ballet flats, but I would never pay that much money for so little material no matter where in the world I was at.  Besides which, they of course didn’t have anything to fit me.  It seems nobody had anything to fit me.  Finally I found some little ballet flats on sale for $10.  All leather, really nice.  And they fit!  Seems KOREAN or CHINESE women’s shoes are made down to size 225, which is equivalent to a U.S. size 4.  Oh happy day!  So now I know to look for size 225, and life is beautiful.  Most of the best-looking shoes only go down to 240, though, so I am still pretty limited.

Almost had a food emergency and stopped at a tiny little shop that featured Mandu.  Since it was the only thing I could see being made, I ordered it.  But of course, a local college student guy ordered something totally different from the menu written on the wall.  I was given EIGHT Mandu the SIZE OF MY FIST plus soup and two banchan for about $3.  Went home full to bursting and watched Korean tv.

Friday night? I went to Dongdaemmon Station to check out what cheap shopping looked like in Seoul.  Open until 4:30 am!  It was totally jaw dropping.  Passed three vertical malls 14? floors high, full to bursting with some pretty decent stuff, totally modern buildings, very trendy stuff.  Live stage outside for promotional bands, etc.  Of course, there were tons of stylish winter coast there for half what I paid for in Idae.  Isn’t that always the case?  I must just tell myself what high quality this coat is.  (It’s a great coat, but not exactly me – I will have to give it to Sara when she comes to visit, as she will love it)  And the prices were outstanding, again for some pretty decent stuff.   And the thing about trendy in Korea is, it’s not trashy, and it’s not ridiculous, and it’s usually well made.

After the trendy malls are old malls.  Maybe about 4 floors high.  These are more like permanent flea-markets inside.  THIS is where the adjosshi’s and adjummas I saw at the airport shop!  Seriously.  Everything is super cheap and looks like vintage 70’s new old stock.  It’s all new, but like out of The Godfather or something.  In a strange way, the styles are kind of cool.  You know – pintucked bowling shirts or patterned polo shirts with porkpie hats, etc.  I think they would look really awesome on some younger kids, though I’m sure everyone here would sooner die than wear what their grandparents are wearing.  The lighting was dark, the piles and piles of clothes and endless stalls of nothing were too much, though, and I moved on.

Across the street from several of these old malls was a mall totally devoted to textiles.  Maybe 4 floors of it.  Endless, endless bolts of fabric, notions, baubles, leather, feathers, laces, etc.  Just miles of fabrics.  It’s like what you’d see in the garment district of Manhatten, but all squished together into one building.  Makes me want to become a fashion designer.  Also makes my head swim thinking about the weeks you’d have to spend there sorting through it all.  Totally overwhelming.

That was enough.  I went back home and went to bed!  But danger, danger, danger.  Dongdaemmon is on the same bus line as me – direct, no stopping, to some of the world’s best fashion shopping values.

SATURDAY

Yesterday went to Emart something like 4 times…It’s only across the street, but I can still only purchase as much as I can carry.  First were must-have household items.  Like a buckwheat pillow so I can actually sleep.  Post it notes, so I can get the translation for my washing machine dial and stick them up, as well as other words in Korean.  Then, it was ironing board and iron, then it was some basic food.

Shopping for food took something like four hours – just because I don’t know how to read Korean and wanted to keep everything I ingest as natural as possible.  Plus, everything is priced and packaged about the same as QFC.  There’s even an entire organic produce and products section, whose prices are out of this world.  (no meat there, though) I tried to buy environmentally friendly cleaning supplies and brought my phrase book with me, but the closest word I could find in the limited dictionary was nature.  The woman didn’t know what I meant by wanting to buy nature, so I found the word “oxy” and hoped that would be the same as the oxyclean stuff in the states.  At the check-out line, after I’d purchased the oxyclean, I saw some all natural cleaning products, of course.

Even in this up-scale grocery, it’s still got some market culture in it.  Barkers shout about the quality of their products and demonstrators acost you while you are shopping and try to convince you to buy their product instead.  Many of the products have samples or gifts to entice you.  Like one product had rolls of toilet paper taped to it.  Another product had mayonnaise.  Another product had a bowl.  Lots of crazy things about shopping in Korea, and I will video it for you later.  (I’m stealing my connection, and it’s not been good enough to load the rest of the shots I took – of Anyang and my apartment)

Then I realized I had a rash all over my limbs, that it was probably from the soap that was given me, and so I went looking for something mild.  Fortunately, Aveeno carries products here.  Got home, took a shower, then slathered on Aveeno soothing moisturizer, and I hope it does the trick.

In the evening, I ran out of cigarettes and decided to explore the neighborhood(?) a little.  My resolve to quit wanes back and forth.  It’s too cold to smoke, and I run down to the 5th floor terrace and smoke there, because it’s not in the public eye.  Women do smoke, but only trash women smoke in public, so you rarely ever see it.  It’s looked down by almost everyone.  But the men – they smoke anywhere and everywhere.  Smoke is the smell of man here, it seems.

Anyway, my area really is a red light district.  There are a handful of motels and about a dozen “businessman’s clubs” and some of those spinning advertisements among the neon are of women dancing.  It all seems behind closed doors – don’t know if that’s always how it is or just because it is so cold.  (There was snow on the ground the other evening)  I think I read somewhere that there was a clean-up of prostitution in Seoul, and that it had zero impact on the johns, because they all just came to Peyongchon station.  There really isn’t any shopping here.  There are a TON of restaurants, (many of them deliver) bars, convenience stores, and those motels.  There are also two Paris Baguettes, the Dunkin Donuts, the Subway, and a Haagen Das ice cream shop.

Actually went partially inside a building, and found a really cheap restaurant, where I ordered the only thing I knew the name of:  (nobody here has English menus, and though some display photos of the food on the walls, mostly it’s all in Hangul text so I can’t know what any of it is)  Bi Bim Bop.  I ate about ten bites and was full, and somehow managed to get it wrapped up to go!  I read that a)it’s hard to order food for only one person and b)it’s impossible to bring food home once you’ve ordered it.  Both of which don’t seem to be true.  I think it is because I stopped at a lower class restaurant that also delivers.  But I can see how this wouldn’t be the case at the majority of restaurants.  Half of which delightfully have not switched to western seating.  Just ate the Bi Bim Bop for brunch.  I think I’m losing weight already in Korea, but don’t know if that’s because I’m walking so much more or because the food is so fat-free.  Neither is the food all that spicey.  But I must say, the salt is a killer.  Those on a low sodium diet be advised…

Purchased two bootleg DVD’s on the street for 6,000 won.  That’s about $2 each.  The won has dropped again against the dollar.  I think it’s something like 1,450 per 1 dollar.  I just round up to 1,500 when trying to convert and think in terms of 3,000 per $2.  It’s a good thing I plan to stay a few years, because this is not the get rich scheme it was back when the won was 900 per dollar.  Anyway, Korean subtitled American movies abound and are available anytime I need a quick fix of American-ness.  It was a good enough movie, and then went to bed.

Today’s agenda is pick out something to wear to KBS tv’s interview tomorrow, do some lesson plan research, and try and (gasp) exercise.  There is something about living in this officetel which is conducive for me to be productive.  My room is like a vault – seriously – with it’s metal hermetically sealed automatic door and its auto light sensor and video call box.  I can’t hear a thing from any of my neighbors either – the walls and floors must be super insulated.  I can only hear someone cough or take a shower from my bathroom.  I think I’ll even be able to practice my bandoneon (except the left side is really whacked out of tune now – not much I can do about that, unfortunately)  My only problem is finding an internet signal that holds up long enough to accomplish anything,

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One thought on “A day of rest

  1. Welcome home…or welcome to the home of your parents. Amazing. I can’t believe you’re there.

    But I’m confused because I forget what your schedule is. Are you in the apartment where you’ll be living for the whole year? How come you start teaching in the middle of spring? And what is the TV interview?

    And what’s mandu?

    I can picture you perfectly in the cold concrete city, wandering trying to read menus. Jack and I had the same experience in Japan. Alienating. Do the schoolgirls wear tiny miniskirts in the freezing cold?

    –Rachel

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