Monday, April 23, 2012

Easter in Seoul

Nicholas and I are truly blessed to have a wonderful group of friends in Seoul who feel like family and shared our holiday together.

Easter Eve, we had a wonderful dinner with our sweet friend, Sojean and ended the night at Mug for Rabbit for some warm drinks. I thought it a fitting way to lead into Easter :)
We started Easter morning with a brunch at our neighbor's apartment. There are over 10 families in our building in Nicholas' group, so it was a way for all of us newbies to meet the old-timers. Our neighbors put on a beautiful spread and had decorated there home- it was just lovely!

From there, we had to rush to our Easter lunch with a favorite couple of ours, David and Aksana. They are truly like our family and we were happy to share the afternoon with them. David, an Italian, invited us to come to the Italian Club for Easter lunch. Each Sunday, the club holds an Italian lunch feast in the basement of a school next to the Italian church, close to the UN Village. The lunch is prepared by Italian priests and the cost is super affordable. You get an enormous meal and meet many people from around the world and the neighborhood. It is my new favorite thing to do :) It makes me feel like the world is a really small and cozy place and that good people and food are never far away.
From there, we grabbed a few more things for our apartment, then met another group of friends to see The Hunger Games. We both read all three books and have been waiting to see it! To end the evening we had a dinner of mandu and beer. To say it was a bit of an unconventional day is probably true, but that we were with friends and those who feel like family sharing meals and wonderful moments made it feel right on :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fish Market Dinner

Friday night we went to dinner with a large group of people from Nicholas' work. The guy who interviewed Nicholas arranged the whole evening from finding the right person to buy the fish at the right prices, organizing the journey to the market and then explaining each course. 
We started the evening walking through the market before we went to the restaurant and were seated for the first of many, many, many courses of raw and cooked seafood. 
Live Octopus- tentacles still moving
cooked and raw abalone
Octopus heads, YUM! 
sea squirt and sea cucumber

We ate sashimi, live octopus, raw abalone, raw sea squirt and sea cucumber, cooked octopus head, grilled shrimp with the shells, along with many sides of kimchi and a final hot soup where all the uneaten seafood was tossed in to be consumed. The strangest thing to put in my mouth was the live octopus. I couldn't believe I was able to eat it, but it really didn't have much flavor and in the end was on the high end of the items I tried. My favorite was the octopus head; the ink is located here and it is really flavorful and for me the texture was the most normal :) The worst was a three way tie between the raw abalone, the raw sea squirt and raw sea cucumber. We drank many bottles of beer and soju and had an experience we will never forget! Not sure if we will be having many of these things again or often, but such a cool experience to try them!

Tech Savy

Korea is very cool and modern and technically advanced. For example, Nicholas had to go away his first night for work and showed me his room key. It was just a piece of paper printed with a code on it. Amazing, right?
We are now completely keyless. To enter our apartment building you just need the code and to get into our apartment, you have another code or fingerprint access. Pretty cool.
Keyless entry
Toilet buttons
I am still trying to figure things out in our apartment. The toilets each have all sorts of buttons from seat warmers to a bidet option. When people visit, our apartment fills with all sorts of musical noises and we can press a button to see the video of our entrance downstairs. Then again when they press our door bell.  (much more than the typical ding-dong) To open the front door, you press a button first and it automatically unlocks it for you. Otherwise, it sets off an alarm. As you can guess, I have already set that alarm off. We also have a couple of radios in the wall in the bathroom and in the kitchen.

About a week or so ago, I decided to try and learn a bit about these little features in our apartment. While getting ready to jump in the shower, I thought it would be nice to have music from the radio and not my phone. I had already started the water to heat it up and then pressed the "ON" button. Nothing happened. So I pressed another button. This one made some sort of noise, so I figured I had turned the radio on and then continued to try and change the station. Within seconds of pressing the second button. I kept hearing all sorts of bells or music over the water, but not from the bathroom...
I, of course, ignored it for about 30 seconds while I still fumbled with the radio and then realized all the noise might be coming from the rest of the apartment and might need my attention. I turned off the water and thought all that noise was our doorbell and someone was downstairs.

My mind immediately thought of our furniture delivery that we were expecting a couple of days, but things here happen quicker and figured they showed up early. So I quickly got ready and pressed the button that I assumed was the one to let someone in the building... Then, all the noise stopped. I thought that I had figured out the intercom/door system pretty easily and gave myself a figurative pat on the back.

A couple minutes later, our doorman was ringing our apartment doorbell and I answered. He gave me a very kind smile, said something, waved and left...

Two thoughts ran through my head. One, he just told me the delivery men were coming up- what service for him to come up and let me know that :) Or two, and more likely, he was just checking to make sure I was OK and once seeing I wasn't harmed, left...

I ran back to the bathroom with a pit in my stomach and my phone in my hand to google-translate (Something I should have done before I pressed the buttons) the label next to the button- Yep. Not "ON" or Station Change. Nope. EMERGENCY.

The button I pressed in the living room to "let" someone in, a second EMERGENCY button.

Oh boy... Good thing our doorman is such a nice and understanding gentleman. Probably isn't the first time this has happened to him... Hope it's the last time for me. As they say, usually you learn more when you make a mistake. One word I am not going to forget anytime soon is 비상- Emergency :)

Monday, April 2, 2012

First Dinner in our New Apartment

Photo of our apartment from the street
We had a busy weekend out and about, so our first meal in the apartment was Sunday night. Since all we have is a bed and some chopsticks, we decided to eat our pizza on the floor :) 
Happy Monday!


We went for lunch with some of the other new hires after our Korean class to eat mandu, Korean dumplings. They were making them in front of us and continued non-stop the whole time we were there and they were yummy!

Water Cooler and Cups

They have these water coolers at all the stores, gyms, restaurants, everywhere! The first time, I had a water bottle with me and felt bad for anyone who might forget theirs since there were no cups... or so I thought.
Water cooler
It took me up until we went to Samsung to start our Korean lessons to realize that the cups have been there the whole time. Can you see them?

Yep, right there :)
filling up 

Voila! So smart :)

Spicy Chicken

Nicholas and I are discoverig the city my favorite way- sampling all the food! We have been going through our guide book every few days and choosing another "best of" restaurant. We also like to walk to each new restaurant and neighborhood to get a feel for the city. Even when it is far, we feel like it is worth it for what is waiting at the destination.
A couple of weeks ago, we went to the best spicy chicken restaurant in Seoul, at least according to our guidebook and to the long line waiting to get in. It took us a while to discover it was the small restaurant on the corner of a small but busy street lined with restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. We later found out we were near a university, hence the large crowds of young people.
Since at the time we couldn't read the characters, it took us a while to finally figure out which restaurant it was with our gps and going character by character of each restaurant and trying to match it with the name in the book (directions here are not the same as back home- if a building is number 12, the one next to it could be number 400... there is no logic in the numbering, so they don't use street addresses, especially since the streets don't usually have names... this is all for another post). We realized locating the restaurant was not our only issue, communicating was also going to be fun :)
Since the menu was only in Korean and had no pictures, it was a good thing I had read up ahead of time on what to order based on price. Otherwise, we would have been totally lost. I matched up the prices and we placed our order from outside while still waiting for a table. When they had us come in and sit, we got around to ordering beer and the side dishes that everyone seemed to be enjoying. That of course was with signing rather than words, although we did learn how to say beer :)

We had a great meal that night and every night since! The food is absolutely delicious. We have not had one bad meal and we have eaten at tiny, incredibly cheap restaurants to more high-end ones. The people here know the way to my heart, for sure!

Korean Lessons

Our class materials
I can hardly believe that I am learning an Asian language, but here I am. In Korea. Taking language courses.

Before we started last Monday, everything looked foreign. I mean, sure, French or Italian or Spanish are foreign languages, but you can usually make out a few words by breaking words down or have taken some form of those languages in the past. Most people at least can pronounce quesadilla properly or have had lasagna :) But what about 안녕하세요? Yeah, didn't think so.

Here, not one word is familiar or can be guessed from reading a sign. Until last Monday, we could not read any signs that were in Korean. After the first day, we could read most of the characters and after day two, we could read all of them! Now, after a full week, we are learning how to introduce ourselves, tell where we are from and our profession and how to order in a restaurant. We have learned a fair amount of vocabulary so far and now Nicholas and I act like 5 year olds who have just learned how to read. Every sign we stop and try to read out loud and then we try to figure out the meaning. Some words are direct English translations, such as banana, tomato and coffee. Others will just take a lot of memorization.
Nicholas and the other Spanish-speaking guys explaining Korean in Spanish
Last week, we also learned how to count. Not just in Korean but in Chinese, since they use both ways. For certain things like how much things cost, like your bill in a restaurant, they use Chinese. But to order a certain number of beers, they use Korean... The counting system is also interesting. There are many ways to count things and from my (lack of) understanding it seems to be based on size and shape, at least so far.
Numbers in Korean and Chinese
It sure is not easy, but it is doable. I cannot believe we are learning a language that does not have letters. It feels like we are getting the key to a secret world. I hope that we stay eager and focused. The more you learn in a language the more you realize you don't know and it is easy to want to give up. There are many expats here who have told us they gave up on learning because they know enough to order food and get home in a cab. They figure they will never use Korean again once they leave. For me, I feel differently.

First, I always find when you say something like "when will I ever use/need... x," you always do. For me, it was my high school French that I never learned properly and therefore led to me starting all over in Switzerland. You just never know when a new skill may come in handy. Second, Nicholas and I are happy here. We want to make Korea feel like our home and to do so we want to be able to communicate in the language to understand the culture and the people.

So far, we are well on our way to confusing every taxi driver and waiter in the city with our dangerous level of Korean :)