It's been a whirlwind ever since I've gotten here, but I suppose some sort of recap is in order. I'll try to keep things in sequential order but working 9am-8pm has my brain pretty fried.
After getting my orientation out of the way, I set out to explore my neighborhood a little bit. I was beyond excited to discover that not only was there a Coffee Bean but also a Dunkin Donuts. Unfortunately the menu isn't the exact same, especially in places like KFC, which would annoy more than a few people because there are NO mashed potatoes and gravy. I don't know how they get away with that but people don't know any better I suppose.
Trying to blend into my surroundings a little more I attempted a Korean Restaurant. Obviously being vegetarian is going to be a pain, especially since I can't really communicate that to anyone. I ended up with pizza, which strangely enough has corn in it. No matter where you go, they put corn on cheese pizza. I don't particularly mind but as soon as I figure out how to say corn I'll be putting a stop to it. The next day I went with a few of the new teachers to Donedaemun Stadium. There's a huge indoor/outdoor market place there, and I got some delicious vegetable pancake thing and some fish soup which was neither too strong or too weak- just right. It was insanely cold that day (yes, it gets cold in Korea- very cold) and I was left wishing I had brought my winter jacket with me. We then left for Itaewon, which is located close to the military and, as a result, is a hotspot for westerners. We had a few drinks and explored a little. The stores and restaurants are definitely more geared towards foreigners in these areas, but at the same time you're never really able to detach from your surroundings. It's a strange thing to explain but I suppose the abundance of neon signs and korean script have something to do with it. We went home soon after. The subways here are spotless and run really efficiently. No herky jerky movements and you're never left waiting too long. It's really inexpensive for the most part, only 90 cents to get on and then another 20-50 cents depending on how far you go and how many transfers you make. Swiping when I get on the subway and then again when I get off has taken some getting used to but it's a pretty smart way to run things.
The next night myself and another teacher went to Gagnam (yet another western hotspot) to meet up with a few people we had met while training but without cell phones plans fell through. It's funny how dependent everyone has become. That's another thing. Literally EVERYONE here has a cell phone. Little kids, old people, and everyone in between. And they play with them non-stop. If they're not making calls or texting they're playing some ridiculous game or listening to music. So strange, it makes the whole subway inexperience a little more impersonal but I always get stares as a foreigner so I guess they aren't totally in their own little world. Anyways, the night was interesting and showed just how hard Koreans party. Some people were already wasted at 10pm but apparently it's not uncommon for people to stay out till sunrise dancing and drinking. I got the worst quesadilla and spent the rest of the evening gawking at all the crazy things for sale, my lack of guacamole, and how done up all the women (and most of the men) are. I don't find really find asians atrractive at all, but I do admire their commitment to high heels, tights, form fitting peacoats, and fancy hair. It makes it hard to figure out what age they are because you have 18 year olds dressing like 30 year olds. Also if you weigh over 125 lbs you really are out of luck here because the clothes are so small (especially the bras I see hanging up in store windows and in street markets). Technically I should find all sorts of really cool stuff here that will actually fit me but not yet.
New Year's Eve was only memorable in how anti-climatic it was. We went to a western bar and did the whole countdown, but when exiting 30 minutes later it was apparent that nobody cared. No hollering on the streets, no barfights spilling out of clubs, no fireworks, and just a general malaise about the whole situation. A bumout for sure but also a reminder exactly how far I was from home. The past two weeks have consisted of lots of work and slowly getting to know people, customs, and the area. Not to mention trying to finagle my way through a meal with just chopsticks. I'll end this with one more story. This past weekend I went to the Casino on the outskirts of Seoul. Such a strange experience. I hate casinos generally, I can do Las Vegas because it's always with a large group and there's always so much more going on than straight up gambling. Essentially it's an adults playground. This casino was unique for a few reasons. First is that they don't let Koreans in, just foreigners. Apparently gambling is illegal but they opened this place in the hopes of taking money from visiting business from Japan, China, and wherever else people were coming from. We had to show our passports before we were let in. From the outside it just looked like a giant mall (with more neon of course) and the inside was a few floors, presumably with different games on each. We just stuck to one floor, and I managed to stretch my $20 investment at the roulette table into four free drinks. They are definitely stingy with who they give the drinks to, and they definitely don't like people hanging around if you aren't playing. It's a business, of course. The most disturbing part (to me) was how calm and collected everyone was. No shouts of joy when a hand hit or when the ball bounced the right way on the roulette table, just a bunch of stone-faced men and women with no attachment to the situation except for the bottom line and what they'd be placing their next bet on. That seems to be a major theme here- everything is a business, money is valued above all else, and everyone takes life very seriously. I suppose you could say the same about most places but it's so strange to be surrounded by it. I'll try to post more of my observations, I know I'm forgetting all sorts of little quips and social faux-pas. Until next time...