I didn’t write much about my last few days in China. I wrote that summary post but not much of the details.
Just a couple of quick highlights. Jim, one of the managers, kept joking to other guests that I was the new staff. It was maybe partially because all the other guests were white Europeans and I could see them hesitate when they saw me because they didn’t know if I was staff or not. So it meant that they usually didn’t introduce themselves to me and when they heard me speak English, their faces relaxed a little.
So Jim I think was partially joking about that and partially because I think they (Jim and Song) enjoyed my company. And I did too. So one time after he said the joke, I replied “I wish.”
I was also there for five days and most guests stay there only one or two days.
The hostel usually had mostly white Europeans guests and I got, of course, the typical questions. I got people asking me to translate things for them even after saying I don’t speak Mandarin. Everyone else was asked questions about their lives, families, school, jobs, and I would either get ignored or get the adoption/Mandarin translation questions. Thats not new though, but someone joked that my feet were too big because they weren’t like bound Chinese women’s feet. That was a new one.
There were some shining moments. This Irish family gave me their address in Ireland and asked me to visit them. They wrote it on a napkin and left it on my bed when I was sleeping because I had an early flight. We had joked about it at dinner, me visiting them, but I guess the mom really was serious about me visiting.
I got along with this French family who traveled to China often, their kid was studying in China, they had worked in China before, and just seemed really to love China. And they never asked me the stereotypical questions and it felt like they saw me as a person. Again, it’s hard to describe what that looks and feels like, except that it really feels nice when it does happen.
I miss China now that I’m in Korea.
My first couple of days in Korea, I haven’t done much. Partially because I’ve been moving from hostel to hostel so part of my time is spent traveling and checking in and out of place.
Also my stomach hasn’t been great so I mostly have been eating lighter foods, which means no Korean foods yet.
And I think I just miss China. I miss the people and being able to talk to people, even if badly. Here I don’t understand Korean and its not a very talk-to-random-foreigners culture. So I think that contributes to a bit of the homesickness feeling.
And with the news of Xi, a lot of Chinese people, particularly kids my age, are scared and censored and reaching out for help online.
It just makes me wish I could be around Chinese people again.
I’m in Korea now though.
This is why I and Korean people call it, South Korea, Korea (read the top two answers).
The culture itself is fairly different from what I’ve experienced so far. Most places I’ve been to are pretty friendly, open, chaotic, loud, carefree. Here it’s much more conservative and very, I guess, streamlined could be a way to describe it. I don’t want to say homogeneous, because there is definitely diversity here, but I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place where the persistence and pressure to be one ideal is so strong.
It’s very religious, LGBT issues are kinda… touchy subjects, you have to dress a certain way or you get stared at, it’s just very different. Conservative is a good word to describe it.
I don’t want to criticize it too too much since I know Korean people and culture is more attentive to appearances and reserved but it’s definitely different.
I met up with Jin on my third day in. The other two days I spent hopping from hostel to hostel and just walking around the area so I didn’t do too many exciting things.
Then Jin came up to Seoul and showed me around some cool spots.
This is a stew with a spicy tomato base, ramyeon, Tteokbokki, and just some veggies. It was so good. A very comfort kind of food.
It’s really nice to be in a city where you don’t know the language but the other person does because it opens up so many options. This is Bindae-tteok it’s a mung bean pancake. Tastes pretty similar to a hashbrown but with veggies.
Patbingsu. Shaved ice with fruit. This has a cake on top of it.
This is a traditional tea house. We got cold teas. Mine is a rice tea, apparently a traditional Korean one. Jin got one that tasted similar to grapefruit. It came with some little snacks and traditional cookies.
We’ve had a good time just chatting about Palmer, chatting about our lives now, travel, etc.
And no, we never talked about North Korea. Honestly I didn’t even want to ask him because I know then I’d be asking one of the stereotypical questions. And to be fair, there was plenty of political stuff with Korea’s last president, Park Geun-hye, that is far more important and relevant to Korean people than North Korea at the moment.
Also North Korea in general is something that I think the West has a fascination with and it often translates to really tasteless jokes. For instance, when I told friends in college, I’d be visiting Jin in Seoul, I got jokes like “I heard it’s really nice in North Korea” or “you should add NK to your list, I heard it’s fun.” One of the people who joked about this was my dentist. And Jin was telling me how at Palmer, people would ask him if he was from North Korea, if his dad was Kim Jong-Il, etc. One of these people was one of our teachers.
So no, I was not going to impose this largely US interest with NK, an interest that usually doesn’t really care about actual Korean people, onto my friend and my time with my friend.
Here’s some videos that maybe can provide some perspective on the subject though.
- How scared are South Koreans of North Korea?:
- What do South Koreans think of North Korean defectors:
- How do South Koreans feel about a joint team with North Korea:
- What it’s like to serve in South Korea’s mandatory military service: https://youtu.be/WsVQ7dyyc_A
- What South Koreans think of rising US -North Korea tensions:
- South Korean nationalist protest North Korea: (these people are the equivalent of white nationalists in the US, they support Trump and all)
We saw Black Panther which had a pretty big scene in Busan, Korea. The theater was packed but not many Korean people got the U.S. jokes so it was quiet when there were moments that would have had U.S. theaters laughing.
Cool to see in the credits that the film had a Korean team made up of mostly Korean people. Which it is nice to know that they collaborated.
This was our last me together. It’s raw Korean beef sushi, 55 cm long. And Korea doesn’t export it’s beef, so the only way to try this kind of beef yukhoe is in Korea.
It was soooo good. And it come with this really nice broth soup. It’s simple so maybe I’ll make it back home.
I am really glad to have seen Jin again and meet up with someone I knew. It’s nice to have someone to share experiences with.
After he left, I went to a meerkat cafe that also had a raccoon, wallaby, these lemurs, and foxes.
I got this squid ink bread with cheese from a shop. It was good, didn’t taste squid-y, just cheesy.
They are selling a lot of flowers here. It’s close to what they call White Day which is Valentine’s Day but the girls gives presents.
Today, March 1st, is their Independence day from Japanese occupation. I just thought that was interesting. There are comfort women statues here of course. The same feelings of wanting an official apology from Japan are shared here, same as from Hong Kong’s comfort women statues which also called for an apology for Nanking Massacre.
This is some street food. Boong-uh-ppang, it’s filled with red bean and another if filled with custard. I liked the custard ones a lot.
This is a hot dog, 감자핫도그, and it has this sweet potato crispy fried exterior. It was okay, actually a little cold inside.
Before Jin arrived, I had walked around the university area and there were all this k-pop performers.
Korea is interesting. I don’t think Seoul is for me. It’s a city through and through. It’s very centered on shopping, skin care, and media and I think it can be fun, but it’s also a bit uncomfortable for me.
It’s admittedly weird to see people of all genders taking selfies and they have automatic filters to whiten their skin, make their face slimmer, and their eyes bigger. It’s strange when I have a photo taken of me and those filters are automatically applied and I find myself thinking maybe I do look a little better with whiter skin and bigger eyes. It’s strange to be essentially told I look old because most people here strive to (and do) look very young. To look at my reflection in a crowd of girls and see just how dark I am in comparison. I stand out, not because I’m a foreigner, but because I’m not adhering to standard of beauty that is so prevalent here.
I have more criticisms but I won’t go on because maybe my thoughts are just influenced from China, specifically Gubeikou, where I felt at home and comfortable in my skin.
I don’t feel too bad though for not being very fond of Seoul since my purpose here was to see Jin which I got to do!
Onward to the UK then (with a layover in Russia which Song called a “very evil place”). It’s snowing in the UK apparently.