Monday, 28 November 2011

November 19, 2011

I gotta start posting this stuff faster. Or find a way to wire my blog to my brain. ...someone somewhere already has the technology. In ten years it will be commonplace. Watch.

I can hardly wrap my head around the fact that I have been here for six weeks already.

I had to stop and think about it this week—I couldn’t recall if I’d just finished week five or six—and it occurred to me that I haven’t been counting down as carefully as I have been prior to this weekend. I guess that means I’m feeling more settled.

It’s rather chilly here in Pyeongtaek today. As it is mid-late November, chilly is quite all right by me. At home there has been snow already. Not a lot, mind, but enough to make people stop and say ‘ah, crap.’

Figures though, now that I’m getting more comfortable with getting around and such, the weather’s going to make exploration less than fun. However, I picked up an extra sweatshirt in Songtan today, so that will help in keeping me warm on outdoor quests.

…That’s right, I went to Songtan today, all by myself! Walked to the train station, added more money to my T card (kinda like a pay-as-you-go TTC pass), and somehow got on the right train. Heh, it helps that many signs here are bilingual, but I’m learning hangul (slooooowly) and that might just make all the difference.

Anyway, Songtan! Again!

I’d been there twice before today and always following others semi-blindly—I will admit that I remember little of my first visit as I was less than 24 hours off the plane from Toronto—so I was I mite nervous about getting there. I made sure that tucked my phrasebook and hangul cheat card into my bag before heading out, since it was entirely possible that I would run full-tilt into the language barrier. The phrasebook has saved my ass a number of times already, and would prove to do likewise again today.

Example: Often when I am in a taxi here, I am traveling with D and T, and as a result, I can never seem to remember what you say when you say where you want to go. So I checked the magical book of barrier breaking. The phrase is “(Destination) uro ka juseyo,” which means “Please take me to (Destination)”. So now I’ve read it, used it, and written it down, so hopefully it is now burned into my brain. Huzzah!

After arriving I mostly wandered aimlessly, taking a proper look around this time, rather than the constant sensation of “OMG, I AM IN KOREA,” that seemed to hit every minute on the minute when I first got here. I was looking for gifty stuff, things to maybe send home for my cousin’s little guys, other cool things to mail off… and I found an Angry Birds sweatshirt that is ever so warm! Much like Southern Ontario, South Korea is actually not very far to the south. It does in fact get cold here—especially when one cannot read her damn thermostat.

Then my stomach informed me that it was dinner time—helped by all the lovely smells coming from numerous street vendors.

So yesterday I decided I wanted to try another new dish. I’ve had Korean BBQ, Kimbap, bibimbap, kimchi, pickled radish, curry rice, curry shrimp, cheese ramen, and silkworms. Yes, you read that right. Frggin’ bug babies. Or…those cocoon Pokemon. It was sort of like eating smoky woodchips wrapped in dryer lint. I’m 100% sure I only ate as many as I did to impress my Korean coworkers.

…uh, so I wanted to try something new. Yes. Now, there is a lovely little diner right by work that does takeout. It is super-quick, super-cheap, and very GOOD. They keep me and T in lots and lots of kimbap. So for fun I started translating parts of the takeout menu from hangul into English sounds, then I Googled what I came up with. It was at this time that I learned my new favourite Korean word: ddokbokki. It is comprised of really thick noodles (they make Shanghai noodles look like angel hair pasta), cabbage, green onion, cucumber, and this sauce that is so spicy, but SO GOOD. My lips were tingling, my mouth was on fire, yet I could not stop eating it. I think it’s a fairly popular traditional dish here, and not for the faint of heart, so my Korean coworkers seemed surprised, pleased, and impressed by how much I was loving my first taste of ddokbokki. There was also much laughter when I decided to go buy some ice cream after. THEY HAVE GREEN TEA ICE CREAM ON A STICK HERE! CH’ON JUSEYO!

So now we’re back in Songtan where I’m hungry and want to try the Korean version of street meat. Then what did my eyes behold? A stand wherein I could obtain a dish of ddokbokki! I could also have tried Korean blood sausage (another time, perhaps), chicken on a skewer, dumplings, and some kind of noodle soup dish. The lady at the stand was super nice and friendly so I will likely go there again. PS, street food is so very cheap! I got a decent-sized serving for only 2000 won!

Some of the street vendors also provide a place to sit, so I figured “why not?” and plunked down next to the warm warm skillet to eat my very spicy dinner. There was an American family beside me (in case I haven’t mentioned, Songtan is home of the Osan Air base and many US troops) and they were enjoying the same dish. We all agreed that it made an excellent meal on a chilly day.

There were some older gentlemen hovering around, one of whom was the vendor’s husband, I think. They were enjoying themselves, sharing a bottle of soju—apparently you can just drink in the street here?—and cracking jokes in Korean. There was much banter that I did not comprehend of course, but the mood was light, and it made for a meal free from awkward silences! Partway through the meal I was given a boiled egg to put in with my noodles. It’s probably why I was too full to finish them, but it tasted really good in that sauce! Actually, the sauce was a lot thicker compared to the stuff I had yesterday, and there were hardly any onions to speak of (yay), but no cabbage at all! The delicious of the noodles and the heat of the spice was on par though. Hoo. And there was lots of fishcake too! (edit, Nov 29: for those who have never experienced the glory of fishcake, I shall simply give you the description of them I came up with that made T laugh his head off: “It’s like a shrimp a and a saltine had a baby!”)

I wanted to be sure ad compliment the meal in Korean since I was treated so well, so I dug out my phrasebook and stumbled out with “ma-shiss-oss-o-yo!” which means “that was delicious!” Methinks my pronunciation was a bit off (shocker), since the vendor grinned and repeated it for me a bit differently (of course I can’t remember it now), using the tone and expression I often employ with the kids when teaching them a new word or phrase—and then one of the soju drinkers piped up with “you numba one!” And I think a few other locals passing by might have applauded a bit too. I am so going back there.

But alas, it was growing dark and cold. I had obtained my sweatshirt and street food, so I decided to head back to Pyeongtaek.

When I got back to the Pyeongtaek station (I would like to add here that like four trains rolled into the arrival side of Songtan station before even one appeared at the departure side, growl and grr), I ended up exploring around AK Plaza—think the Eaton’s Centre on top of Union Station. There were a pile of different shops and restaurants, food courts, and toilets that attack if provoked (read: bidets). Eventually I wound up in Daiso, which I think is kind of like a dollar store. Have I mentioned the security at some of these places? They have people whose job is to stand by the theft detection devices, watching people come in, and also you have to put your bag in a coin-operated locker. This means you have to grab your wallet out first, or you can’t pay for your purchases. A bit annoying, but ask me sometime about how low Korea’s crime rate is compared to Canada’s. Anyway. At said fortress of shopitude, I first obtained some slippers, since my floor tends to murder my socks with filth and my bathroom tiles are so cold that I swear my feet are gonna freeze to them sometime… then I bought a nice big bowl for having my ramen in, and a magical device that is said to kill mosquitoes, but it did not come with the little cartridge that it needs to make it work, alas. Assumptions, friends. Yeah.

The night is getting cooler and I honestly don’t know if my place has heating in it or not, aside from stove use. My bathroom and laundry room are not fun places to be just now.

I think I’ma watch the Korean drama I downloaded. Hooray for subtitles!

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