Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Chuseok in Seoul

After a rather decent hiatus, I've resolved to hop back on the hyperwebs and share my thoughts with all of you lovely people (whoever you may be). In the time since my last post, much has happened in my life here in South Korea. Among them was Chuseok holiday in Seoul, EPIK late-comer orientation also in Seoul, the Foreign Service Exam once again in Seoul, a birthday party or two, and my first outing with my school. This recap may need to be executed in installments, as some of these events are rather noteworthy. But let's take it one step at a time.

Here goes:

Chuseok. It's the Korean equivalent to Thanksgiving where families gather, eat liberally, and pay respect to their loved ones who have passed on. Chuseok also means a 4 day vacation for Erin Teacher. When I found out my move to Korea was set, my friend Alex mentioned that he would have 2 opportunities to stop by Seoul for a visit. The stars aligned and the first window of opportunity fell during Chuseok. So within the first month of my stay in Korea, I got to enjoy the company of a friend from home. And then, another friend from Kentucky who is also teaching with EPIK headed down to Seoul to enjoy the sights with us.

I left for Dongdaegu Station on a lovely Tuesday morning, excited to finally have the chance to explore the vibrant capital city of Seoul. The almost 2 hour bullet train ride from Daegu was smooth and I enjoyed a brilliant nap. When I awoke at Seoul Station, however, I saw, to my dismay, that it was raining. Great. But I brought an umbrella so I assumed it would be manageable. WRONG. I descended the subway, laden with luggage carrying clothing for the next 10 days. After frantically searching for a subway map in English (at the point, I couldn't read Hangul - not anymore!), I boarded the train to Hongik Uni to drop my luggage at the hostel, meet my friend Sean, and wait for Alex to arrive in Seoul that evening. As the train pulled into the Hongik Uni station, I popped out of my seat and headed toward the door to exit, only to be met with the sight of a yellow-poncho-clad man waving his hands furiously that I go to the next car to disembark. This was due to the deluge pouring through the roof of the metro station. The water was half a foot high on the metro platform. Odd event, maybe the plumbing burst. Also, WRONG.

Lugging my bags up the many stairs to the upper platform and exits, I see people running around as if Godzilla had just turned up in Korea. I think I would have preferred Godzilla to the actual reason for the absolute havoc: the second flood. Every exit was blocked off due to water up to my shins. I finally found my friend and we boldly exited, hoping to survive the disaster. Well, of course I survived, but never have I been so miserable in my life. Of course I left my rain coat in Daegu and the only other shoe option I had were my shower shoes, which I eagerly changed into. Note: never wear shower shoes in a flood unless you have to, because you will inevitably almost lose one and have Korean men running after them for you. Slogging, truly slogging, through a foot of water in the streets of Seoul, I deposited my luggage into a dry location and headed back out to find further shelter.

The epitome of style!
Apparently Seoul receives about 1200mm of rain per year. The day I arrived, 300mm fell. ONE FOURTH OF ANNUAL RAINFALL. And of course, I had to be there that day. Cars and buses had no idea what to do. I can't even count the number of taxis I saw drive straight into the water only to flick their emergency lights on directly after. Buses were barely making it. Korean women, dressed in their usual high heels and posh outfits, were struggling to walk through the currents in their 3 inch suede wedges. And then there was me, covered in a 1500won yellow plastic poncho (to keep my purse dry, everything else was a lost cause), blue sparkly shower shoes, and hair like a wet dog fighting the currents to get to a coffee shop or anywhere that would prove drier and less windy than the outside.

And after surviving such peril I believe, like after any terrible event, I need a tshirt saying, "I Survived the Great Seoul Flood of 2010." Or something.

I really did enjoy my time in Seoul. Great seeing friends from the US again. Brilliant seeing all of the sites (like a real tourist!) and enjoying the free admission to all historical places on Chuseok. Granted, all of the palaces and temples in Seoul look exactly alike, but this is probably due to the fact that the Japanese bombed the bageezus out of them and they all had to be recreated...they still look like something direct from Epcot (minus the terrifying lifesize Disney characters and overpriced tiaras). Insadong market is a lot of fun, Itaewon (the foreigner area) I could have done without, Hyewa is a nice area to just chill and grab a bite, and Hongdae is amazing for nightlife. Especially if you know the right park to head make it short, I spent that Friday night with a few friends and random Koreans drinking soju, singing, and dancing in a park near the big bar area. Probably one of the best nights I've enjoyed yet in Korea. Plus, there were also delicious corn dogs involved.

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