Week One (February 27 - March 2)
(So typing in third POV takes too long. Switching back to first POV and doing weekly summaries.)
The view I get from the kitchen. I live on the second floor, the only floor with a full balcony!!
After taking another shower, I go with my roommate, Yvonne, and one of her friends to the cafeteria near our dorm. Locating it was a little difficult, because the maps do not match exactly, but we find it. It looks any old cafeteria from the States. Lots of seating and several meal pick-ups. The only difference is that you have to buy the ticket that matches the meal you want. The only kink is that the ticket machine is in Korean! All we could do was match the price of the meal to that on the screen. I pick the 3000won meal.
As best as I can describe it, it was a rice omelet smothered with gravy and mustard with three pork bites in another brown sauce. I can't say that it looked good, but it sure did taste wonderful! All I needed was a cup of juice. Where....? Nothing to drink? Okay, that's fine... Yvonne and her friend spoke in Chinese, so I just observed other students ordering and what they did with their dirty trays. I found it odd that girls with purses (all of them) placed it on the chair behind them. Such a good idea. It's not going to get dirty on the floor and a thief is less likely to try to swipe it from you. I still prefer keeping it in my lap or between my feet. On the far side of the room, there are chutes for forks, knifes, and spoons and a conveyor belt for the leftovers on the tray. Rounding the decorative divider, we came water dispensers, and outside the doors were the drink vending machines. I'm used to getting my drink before sitting down to eat.
Next was taking the Korean test in order to place into a class. Well, a very large portion of us didn't know diddly squat about Korean, so all we could do was sign our name and walk to the next step which is the interview. Not sure what they can ask us. While waiting, all I can think of is the lack of air conditioning. I bought the full-length trench coat for 25-degree weather, not auditorium rooms filled with body heat. Anyway, from the auditorium, we went into a lecture-style classroom where we sat until the Korean teachers or some authority figures called us up to go to the interview rooms. My interviewer was a little intimidating. She was so graceful, and though she did not look a day over 25, you can tell she's been around for a while. She asked me if I knew any Korean. I told her I could read the alphabet and count. She asked me to read (sound out) some of the questions in the test booklet. I could read it out alright, but I didn't understand any of it. She suggested the Korean level 2 class so I could skip the beginner lessons. I declined. (Later, I'd be glad I started from zero.)
I needed a lot of things, but being in a new area kind of throws my organized thoughts out of the window. Yvonne, her friend and I left the safety of campus and wandered up the main street. Since Ewha is 98% female there's a ridiculous amount of feminine shops including clothes, shoes, beauty stores, etc. There's one even called "Barbie"...with dude cashier. >.> Odd.... Most guys wouldn't be caught dead near the cosmetic aisle in CVS! I was most shocked by not being able to read the labels on anything. The only products I recognized were Dove, Pantene, Vaseline, Pringles.... Culture shocked much?
On the way back up to our room, Yvonne and I asked about a transformer for the two circular pronged Korean outlet. The contraption weighs ten pounds or more and takes up a good amount of desk space. Sadly, it only has two outlets, so I have to prioritize charging my laptop, phone, hair dryer, flat iron, etc.
That night, I was too self-conscience about finding somewhere on the street to eat by myself, so I got to the ECC (the Ewha Campus Complex) and get lost in the maze of hallways and floors connected with irregular staircases until I find Starbucks. There are English translations on the menu, which makes selecting easier. I pick up a chicken burrito cut in two halves, which turned out to be $4 or $5, too much for how small it was. Portions aren't American-sized.
I totally flooded the toilet at 7:45am. It wasn't me!! There was just a heck of a lot of paper in it and apparently, the toilets here can't handle American heavy-handedness. Being plunger-less and without a phone number for maintenance, I kind of had to leave it. I couldn't call the office until 8, so I just sat nerve-wracked. I checked on the toilet again before calling, just to see if it had worked itself out (you know sometimes toilets have attitudes) and I think the cleaning lady got to it. No water on the floor and the toilet was unstopped. Cool!
Orientation was looooong! (I'll upload the program at a later date.) Once again, I am faced with AC-less conditions and a room full of 200+ warm bodies. Ugh! The Office of Global Affairs introduced themselves and told us a bunch of things I've forgotten now, but they are common sense things about living on the campus and getting administrative things done before March 8th. We were introduced to all of the Ewha Peace Buddies, the students who would help us adjust to Korean life. Afterwards, a light lunch was served. Let me tell you, the only thing I recognized on the table were spring rolls, kimchi, and fruit. Everything else I simply tried.
I decided to wash my hair after the short tour of campus. Turns out, it wasn't such a good idea. Drying my hair turned in to a hazard. I brought my own hairdryer, because of the comb piece that attaches to the front. It helps straighten out the tangles; I can't just blow out my hair, being African American and all. Well, the transformer started making a weird whining noise and a burning smell wafted around the room, and it wasn't just my hair frying. I rush to open the balcony door. I opt to blow dry my hair in sections quickly, then turn off the transformer for a few minutes. That works, though my hair isn't too straight. I use the flat iron in the same way, even adding in curls. I'm looking fly for the party at Barfly tonight!
The party began with a huge group of us being shooed around the Sinchon area by the Buddies. Korean nightlife is full of bright, colorful lights! and plenty of foot traffic. We created a line outside Barfly that rounded the corner. At one point, the restaurant owner started yelling in Korean for us to not block his business. He only had to ask nicely.... Jeez. The club is underground. A steep flight of steps and a sudden T-junction lead to the club to the left and the woman's room on the right. Inside, club workers took anything clubbers didn't want to take to the dance floor, placed them in bags, then wrote the number of the bag on the hand of the clubber and put them on shelves behind the counter. Such a good idea. I only handed over my jacket. All important details remained stuffed in my pockets. The club had another flight of stairs leading to the dance floor, bar, limited seating, and fuss-ball tables. All of the international students and Buddies were milling around. We were each given three tickets for a free drink. I decided to try rum and coke, since I am legal in Korea (20 until March 14th). It was nasty. Too much alcohol and not enough soda. I leave it on the counter. I meet a few familiar faces and make small talk until people start dancing. That didn't start til way later, like 9. When it did, it was great to finally just dance with strangers again. One word on the music--it kind of stunk. If it wasn't something American (Bottoms Up, Party Rock, etc etc.) it was just bouncing music. I didn't come to bounce on my heels! I left at a decent time with a group of people.
One of the girls in the group is from Germany. When we get back to campus, around midnight, and the girl and I decide to go find grub. We walk up the main street, but it's a ghost town. The food carts are gone, the stores are closed, and no one's walking around. Apparently, everything closes are 9, except 7Eleven and one food restaurant. We decided to to the mini restaurant. Obviously, a white and black chick probably can't read Korean, so one of the cooks hands us a menu with English. Even with that, I can't tell exactly what anything is, so I pick a picture. It was 떡볶이 (tteokbokki) which is very, very spicy rice cake. We went back to our rooms to eat. I took one bite and threw the rest out. It was too much spice and my stomach didn't appreciate it. The Oreo-wannabes in the vending machine in the basement saved my life that night.
This day was spent searching for food. Yvonne (in the tan coat), two other girls and I were looking for a new cafeteria, but we didn't realize that it was a national holiday, something akin to Independence Day. We found one in Helen Hall. The cashier/cook was looking at us like, "You are clearly international students. Here is the English-ish menu." (Though he didn't say it.) I picked something that had chicken in it. It was good, except it had a layer of cheese and inch thick. I couldn't finish it. My stomach was in the midst of converting to proper eating habits. Yes, that was a barb aimed at my home country.
I met with my cousin Carlton to have dinner. I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am to have a family member in Korea. Makes me feel less lonely, being 13 hours ahead of my home. We both discovered the parking deck in the bowels of the ECC (Ewha Campus Complex). We walked around the fourth floor, where most of the businesses are, and just get to know each other better. Instead of eating there, we decide to go find a restaurant nearby Ewha. In fact, we get lost while trying to locate a place to eat. Its is specialty 닭갈비 (takgalbi), which is a stirfry of chicken, rice cake (spice or not), cabbage, more veggies, and rice and the end of the meal. Deliciousness all over, and great when you have 2 or more people eating. This is the first time I realize how social Korean meals are.
Along with the main dish, Korean meals come with a bajillion, refillable side dishes. At this restaurant, the side dishes include radish (to the very left), two different styles of seaweed (the top is my favorite; the bottom was slimey), the reddish stuff is kimchi (my love!), and the silver cup is just water.
Lastly, I take a picture of the stairway leading to the restaurant for future reference. The fact that the clothing store beside it is called "Korean Boys," I don't think I'd be too hard to find it again.
Making some kind of ramen in the microwave. Back to dorm life without a stove...
Um... I just pushed buttons and it started.
Finished product! It was WAYYYYYYY too freaking spicy. I ended up dumping some of the juice down the sink and chugging about two bottles of water.
A friend and I went into a building called "Yes APM" and the bottom floor and small department stores. We kept going up the escalators and found a wedding hall!