Hostility, Honeymoons, and Home

As you may have noticed from my fancy countdown box in the sidebar, I am back home in Los Angeles as of yesterday.  It was a really bittersweet departure (let’s just say I didn’t really feel like leaving), but I must say, I’m loving every minute at home.

Before I left, I started thinking about my best (and worst) moments in Korea.  That, combined with a relatively recent post by Elise, a former college study abroad advisor, reminded me of the phases of travel.  (Phases aren’t just for whiny toddlers and hormonal adolescents.  Cranky travelers go through them too.)

This is exactly the kind of thing our study abroad office tried to prepare us for.  You know, on the “tips for studying abroad” sheet I received when I got my grant to spend my summer in Seoul learning Korean.

Since I didn’t read it (they teach you to skim in college), I can’t tell you exactly what it said, but I do recall it mentioning things like “culture shock” and the “honeymoon stage”.

Luckily for me, as a “gyopo” (foreigner of Korean descent, often Korean-American), I didn’t experience much culture shock.  It was all very familiar, so I assimilated to life as a Seoulite very quickly.  However, in that short transition period, I skipped the honeymoon stage entirely and found myself in the hostility stage right away.

My first week in Seoul was…not the best.  It was when I felt most alone, and the worst part was that I hadn’t yet discovered how to be happy on my own.  On top of that, I had tripped down the stairs my second day there and was stuck icing and elevating my foot in my tiny, hot room.  Not being able to walk places and explore the city was a huge downer.  I felt like a lonely, overheated klutz, and I hated it.

Since I was living in the hasookjip (boarding house) at the time, making friends was also a challenge.  I didn’t meet anyone until my first day of class, six days after I arrived.  Eventually (two weeks in, to be exact), I moved into the dorms, and that was largely motivated by my desire to meet new people and make more friends.

My hostile phase passed soon enough, and I was enjoying life in Korea immensely by the second week.  The remainder of my stay was positively brilliant – I explored a lot of the city, took two trips down south, made some good friends, and wrote a ton of blog posts (this is my 58th!).  You could say my honeymoon stage lasted 9 weeks.

I’d say my last two weeks were the real honeymoon stage, though.  Once I realized my stay in Korea was winding down, I set out to finish my list before I left.  I made it to almost everywhere I wanted to go — notable exceptions are Jeju Island, the DMZ, and a Korean baseball game.  My stay was full of great food, people, and places; I don’t have a single regret.

When it finally came time to leave, I didn’t want to go.  Just when I felt settled and like I belonged in Korea, my time was up.  But, as a friend told me a while back, knowing your time in a place is limited helps you appreciate and enjoy it more.  I loved my time in Seoul, and I know I’ll be back.

As great a time as I had, there’s really no place like home.  Although I wasn’t homesick, I did miss my family and friends (from Chicago and LA) at times and made it a point to keep in touch.  My time in LA is short (only 3 weeks!), so I’m looking forward to spending it with my loved ones.  I’ll be reliving some of my not-yet-blogged Korean adventures as well, so keep an eye out!

And it’s hard to believe, but Seoul was only Part 1.  Let the countdown to Rome begin!  I guess it’s time to start learning Italian…

Street Food, Seoul Style

1 am in Sinchon.

Hungry at 2 in the morning?  No problem.

Whether you’re craving something fried, spicy, or neither, Korean street vendors have something delicious to offer you.  These movable food stations, known as 포장마차 (pojangmacha), are a night-owl’s best friend.  They offer a variety of street foods — ranging from ddukbokki to mandu to teriyaki skewers to waffle desserts.  Most are open through the afternoon and evening and often into the wee hours of the morning (on the weekend, which starts on Thursday), though of course it depends on the vendor.

My personal favorite in Sinchon is “the waffle man,” as a few of us at Yonsei refer to him.  Though he left us hanging during a few weeks of July/August (he claims it was too hot to be out), he’s now back for good until the winter.  His stand’s specialty is the waffle cream/ice cream sandwich, and it’s right up there with patbingsoo in my book.  (His waffle desserts, specifically.  Other stands just aren’t the same…)  My favorite flavor so far is the sweet potato (goguma) cream, though the walnut and chocolate ice cream flavors are also good.

Waffle ice cream sandwich – walnut, chocolate, blueberry (bottom to top)

I’ll certainly miss seeing these around when I’m back in the States.

Reunited At Last, Part 2 – Lotte World

Last Saturday, Seoyeon and I got together one last time before I head back to the States.  This time, she came to visit me in Seoul, and we spent all day at Lotte World, an entirely indoor amusement park.  I’m not a huge fan of amusement parks anymore, although I used to love roller coasters and spent more than a few days of my childhood at Disneyland and California Adventure.  But, I couldn’t say no when she asked if I wanted to go, and ended up having a good time.  Seoyeon had a blast, so the hours we spent walking around and standing in line were well worth it.

We were there all day (we got there at 10:30 am and left at 9 pm) and rode a number of rides — some more than once.  I can’t say I would recommend Lotte World…unless you’re easily amused, traveling with kids, or in one of those cute relationships known as a “couple” (I only mention the latter because there were cute couples everywhere).  Here’s the day in photos.

Welcome to Lotte World!

Caught red-handed.

Bored in line = picture time!

Mirror, mirror

Leaving our mark

The rock wall!

Seoyeon: Avid Tree Climber

– the “Art Gallery” –

Roman Holiday in Lotte World!

It was even more fun than it looks.

Bumper cars…Seoyeon’s new favorite. She’s a natural driver. Who knew?

The indoor hot air balloon that we didn’t get a chance to ride.