Namsan (남산) Lets down its Hair

Most of the place-posts are going to be photo diaries because a picture is worth a 1000 words, right?

Before we get to the great pictures… Namsan is a mountain, a popular tourist spot in Korea.

A little fun Korean lesson for you: Nam=남 and San=산 (산 means mountain).  In total: it took around 2 hours to walk up and down the mountain.  It’s not too bad, but I do suggest going when it is a little cooler out.  I went when it was a little above 70 F and that was a bit too hot to be hiking up a mountain.  However, if it’s too hot for you- take the cable car up.  That option is very popular and there was a huge waiting line.

You may have seen this site in a Korean TV show or a few.  Not only is this place a tourist area but also a great place to shoot dramas.  As seen in the famous drama, Boys Over Flowers:

Namsan Park has several paths walking up the mountain and even a cable car that will take riders to the top and back down.  On top of the mountain, people are blessed with breathtaking views and a tower, known as the N Seoul Tower.  This tower is similar to the Empire State Building in New York, as it can be seen from almost any point in Seoul.  I could see the tower from my dorm room.  You know what direction you are facing by finding the N Seoul Tower.  This tower serves as an observation tower if you want even more breathtaking views (unfortunately, because my fear of heights, I didn’t go up in the tower).

However, there is plenty to see on top of the mountain.  They sell keys and locks by the mountain and couples are allowed to lock away their love and throw the key over the edge.  Most of the pictures I took look strangely messy but seeing them, in person, has the opposite effect.  Piles upon piles lock their love away, a promise meant to be kept forever.  With each one, I wondered what the story behind it was.  The whole thing is fascinating because these people, wherever they are from, are leaving behind a piece of themselves in South Korea.  It is like they are making history.

So, without further ado, instead of listening me talk about how gorgeous the site was- see for yourself:


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The 오빠 Experiment

I mentioned in a post ago that I would putstudy up my essay that I wrote for Cultural Anthropology class, while I was in Korea.  This essay was one of my favorite projects of the semester, mainly because as much as the essay was written in English- I was able to research about the Korean language.  It was very interesting to learn about this aspect of Korean culture.  Even though this took me a lot of time to write, because of the interviews conducted, it was still awesome to read about.

Prompt: Choose one or more Korean kinship terms and research how they are used outside of the family.  What does this say about society?

Within Korean culture, it is common to point out the sort of relationship one has with another by using kinship terms outside the family.  No other language, that I have known, depicts kinship terms in such a typical way.  English does something similar by calling friends “bro” and “sisters” but it is not as common as in Korean language.  However, as a foreigner in the community, approaching this project proved to be difficult.  Since my Korean language skills lack quite a bit, being able to immerse myself in the project was undeniably awkward.  I wanted to get to the bottom of this and figure out why Korean culture uses kinship terms outside the family and what that shows about the culture, in general.  When meeting new people, but boys especially, who discover how much younger I am than they, their immediate response is “Jeanna, you can call me오빠.” It is said with a smile, an invitation that is awkward to me because without the use of Korean, the word sounds strange while speaking English.  I came into this project with a series of expectations and understandings of the subject.  Some of my knowledge was debunked after doing some research, others confirmed.  First off, there are plenty of kinship terms to choose from to depict what relationship one has with a person:

오빠 누나 언니
할머니 할아버지

Only knowing a beginner’s level of the Korean language has given me limited kinship terms to start with.  However, for the sake of specificity, my research focuses on  “오빠” that is used outside the family and the lack of 누나 in dating relationships.  Through a series of interviews and observations, the use of the words, their meaning, and what they bring to the culture has been revealed.  Using오빠, especially in dating relationships, is able to solidify gender roles, as well as construct more intimate social relationships.

The word “오빠” is used in several different situations but for the purpose of the paper, the use of the word is found on a campus setting, applied in a classroom.  In a crowded classroom, filled with mostly Korean students and a few foreigners sporadically placed throughout the room, there are at least two heterosexual couples who sit close, while class is in session.  Upon observation, they conduct themselves accordingly, for class is assembled.  It is not until the female or male student engages the other in quiet conversation.  This happens during break time, before or after class, and during class, while the professor continues on.  The female student tends to use the word “오빠” twice or more, depending on the length of the conversation.  When the word is said, nonverbal communication must be observed: Her fingers reach toward his, possibly unconsciously.  She shifts in her chair, closer to him or at an angle to face him better.  The male is unusually attentive, distracted from the professor’s lecture, but listening to the student he sits next to.  This situation has been observed more than three times, in several different classes, by different couples.  The nonverbal communication shows that they are close with one another, they expect skinship from each other, and the way she shifts in her chair is to show that she wants to receive whatever she may be asking for.  His attentiveness is similar to the immediate reaction I received when introduced to Korean men.  It is widely known that men like being called오빠.  Interviewees have given insight on to what this situation may mean and the kinship term used, in general.

The interviews conducted revealed several things about Korean culture and the use of kinship terms outside the family.  Every interviewee similarly responded, when using the term “오빠,” there needs to be at least a two-year age gap between the two people.  According to SawHyun, a 21 year old female student, points out that using these kinship terms is all about age and respecting age, people who are older than you are (이).  Korean culture uses a respect hierarchy of age, taking the “respect your elders” rule to a different level.  SoMi, a 23 year old female student, said that the use of오빠 is to express respect, friendship, and closeness with a boy who is older than you (윤).  She believes that by using the term, it can be used in such a way to flirt and to get what you want (윤).  Her comment mirrored those of the male students’ interviews.  They agree that when girls use the term, they are using it to get what they want because they know the affect the word has on males.  Literally, the term is translated in English as “older brother.”  It is strange, from a foreigner’s perspective, to call a boyfriend an “older brother.”  However, my original point-of-view has dramatically changed since the beginning.  The word itself may mean a literal kinship term, however, it is not what they mean by it at all.  One tends to begin calling their boyfriend “오빠” when they feel family values: protectiveness, trust, and respect toward that person.  In this way, using kinship terms strengthens their bond, connects them in some sort of way, and lets the male know that the female trusts him.

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All the females interviewed agreed that every Korean man loves to be called 오빠.  SeungGyu, a 24 year old male student, said that kinship terms are just a part of Korean culture; it is extremely natural to “get high,” when being called 오빠, to take it as a compliment, as a flirtation (전).  YoungSoo, a 23 year old male student, admitted liking when girls call him오빠, saying that his immediate response is to get to know her or know more about her (채).  He then went on to give me permission to call him such; most women do not receive verbal permission but since I am foreign, he wanted me to be given the chance.  SoMi says that the word itself sounds cute and utilizing애교 is something very common in Korean culture (윤).  SoMi commented on the situation described as one that happens regularly (윤).

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Using 오빠 is natural in everyday speech.  YoungSoo said that “오빠” is a sign that the relationship has dropped their formal speech, becoming more comfortable with one another (채).  It is way for females to show that they want to be closer to the male.  When males are called “오빠,” SoMi believed that their reaction is to protect the woman, that they feel more responsibility for her (윤).  Like I predicted before the interviews, 오빠 is similarly used, in dating relationships, as a pet name:

여보 자기 당신 -아 or -야

The only difference between pet names and the term오빠 is the weight of the meaning and that only women can use the term, whereas pet names are undeterred by gender.

During several of the interviews, I questioned about the idea of calling someone 누나, while dating.  Some showed disgust, others thought it was a funny question.  Through my observations, I did not come across a couple that utilized 누나.  For this, I relied on my interviewee’s opinions.  SoMi replied that it is perfectly acceptable for a man to call an older woman “누나,” when dating (윤).  In American culture, dating women who are older than the man is looked down upon.  It is unclear, whether or not, the instance of dating an older woman is negative, in Korean culture.  According to YoungSoo, if the age gap is more than three years, 누나 can be utilized in the dating relationship (채).  However, SeungGyu disagreed and said that friends may start off using the term but as they get closer and start to date, males would not want to call her that any longer; it is constantly reminding the female of her age (전).  It seems that, even across countries, women do not like to be reminded how old they are.  SawHyun, personally, would not mind being called 누나 because it is similar to being called 오빠 for males; she would be flattered (이).  However, she pointed out that, in all truth, boys wouldn’t call their older girlfriends “누나” because they want to pretend that the boy is older, that the girl is younger (이).  This is most definitely where gender roles in Korean culture is emphasized.

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There is a very exact standard that Korea holds in its traditions.  That is gender roles.  They may be changing overtime with the integration of more Western values but Korean gender roles are forever present with the use of kinship terms outside the family.  The most evident term is that of 오빠 and the relative lack of 누나, in dating relationships.  Using 오빠 is all about respect.  One will use the term, admitting that the male is older than the female speaker.  The younger female speaker is thus putting herself in an inferior role.  In this instance, it is not gender that makes that so but age.  By being younger of the two, the younger is inferior to the older person.  Being called오빠, the male takes on the role as the protector, given responsibility.  The lack of누나, as much as it varies by couple, most Koreans do not call their older girlfriends by the kinship term.  Not using the term “누나,” is a way to still give the superiority to the male, by pretending that their ages differ.  Therefore, using kinship terms outside the family emphasizes a male-dominated, patriarchal society in Korean culture.

An aside from the project, I conducted a small experiment on school campus.  To test if it is possible for males to recognize their close girl friend or girlfriend, a Korean woman and I called out “오빠!” to random male college students, walking by.  When I asked the interviewees what they thought the results were, they replied with different answers.  To make it fair, the Korean woman and I each called the term out to three different men (so six male students in total).  It did not matter that I did not have an accent because six out of six male students looked our way in question.  It shows the eagerness that males feel when someone calls them such.  Here we were, strangers, and these boys looked back at us with elation and anticipation on their faces.  We disappointed them, of course, because they were probably hoping for someone else, someone closer to them perhaps.  This experiment stresses how common Korean culture incorporates the term 오빠.

Immersing myself in this project was difficult to do.  As an American, the aspect of using kinship terms in language is something new to me, something I never before thought about. Being given permission to call male students오빠, was actually the “in” I needed.  A lot of foreigners come to Korea having a vast, working knowledge of Korean culture, or at least they believe that they know about Korean culture.  It is very common among the foreign crowd to express the want to be able to use kinship terms, 오빠 especially.  Being able to use오빠, helped me understand firsthand what happens nonverbally during an interaction.  Also, saying the term gave me a sense of belonging.  In this way, I was able to experience utilizing kinship terms and understand them more greatly.

The interviews used in this paper were all conducted in English.  Please take note that what these students attempted to explain may or may not be unreliable.  These are basedIMG_1994 on their opinions of their own culture, and does not reflect the Korean culture as a whole.  To depict the Korean culture as a whole, one would need a much larger sample size.  If this were, in fact, a “real” ethnography (and not a mini one), a larger sample size would be given.  Also, instead of focusing on one situation, a “real” examination would focus on several and come to conclusions of culture in that manner.  With this mini-ethnography, it only scraped the surface of what kinship terms outside the family hold.  There are so many new questions, primarily about the history of the term and the age limit of its users.  To approach a possible “real” examination, one would need to be given more time and conduct surveys and gather other data for complete research.  However through this mini-ethnography, it has applied the use of오빠 and how it emphasizes gender roles and social relationships within Korean culture.

Works Cited

전, 승규.  Personal interview.  14 Nov 2014.

채, 영수.  Personal interview.  12 Nov 2014.

윤, 소미.  Personal interview.  20 Nov 2014.

이, 서현.  Personal interview.  17 Nov 2014

Truth or Dare Pt. 2

Truth or Dare? Dare sucks.  Need I say more?

I wrote a first part of my truth or dare adventures in Korea and thought I would share with you more.

After the basketball court fiasco, I thought my truth or dare days were past me but on my birthday, my friends had a wonderful idea to pass the time.  Of course, it involved playing the game I hated the most.

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Hanging out with a small group, the game resumed without an audience this time.  It was just us enclosed in by a circle of bushes between the park and the sidewalk.  We were without an audience until my friends decided that for my turn, I had to yell out “오빠!” to random passersby.  오빠 is a Korean term of endearment, essentially meaning “older brother” (gender specific: only females can say this word) but also could mean “boyfriend” or “older guy in my life.”  It is a bit confusing to explain, but when I post my essay about the use of the word, it will probably make much more sense.  오빠 is not something I should be yelling out to random strangers.  It simply is not done.  Also, being a foreigner and yelling out the word seemed a total cliché and I wanted to avoid it as long as I was in the country—of being a typical foreigner.  But this is a dare in the game and it wasn’t like there was a crowd.  It was a stranger and me, and my friends were watching from a little ways away.

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A male student walked passed on the sidewalk.  A total stranger.  I took a deep breath.  One of my friends pushed me onto the sidewalk, after he had passed.  (Remind me why we are friends again: no, just kidding, my friends are awesome!  It’s just this game that brings out their devious sides.)  The plan was to call after him, not too loud but to get his attention.  Well, I got his attention.  When I took a breath in, I let the word rip out of my throat.  He looked back.

I hid in the bushes.  Moral of the story is to never let introverted people play TRUTH or DARE.  My friends started laughing and eventually the student, shrugging, left.  No questions.  I never want to play TRUTH or DARE ever again.  Isn’t college a bit too old for sleepover games?  Never again.  Never. Again.

From this experience and a few other instances, I was inspired by the topic to write an essay in my Cultural Anthropology class.  I will be posting that essay in the coming posts.  Stay tuned.

Embarrassing as TRUTH or DARE is, I learned that going to a different country with a different language, different culture, and almost different everything is like playing a 24/7 game of TRUTH or DARE.  The game and studying abroad is all about taking risks and doing things you wouldn’t normally do.

The ultimate “dare” here is going to South Korea and having an amazing experience of a lifetime.  It is about taking the risk and going for it. 화이팅!

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Truth or Dare Pt. 1

When I was deciding what to write for today’s post, I wasn’t quite sure.  I have a list of posts that I have to write eventually with thought-out notes and drawings from my time in South Korea.  It is because I knew I would be behind on writing posts because when in another country, why would I be sitting at a computer writing about my experiences—while I could still be outside and having more experiences?

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At 외대 (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies), right by the gate is a considerably large dirt field.  While it is warm, soccer players wake early to get practice in and play until dusk.  Next to the field (why can’t you be made of grass? But that is for another post) is a basketball court.  During the fall months, before it got terribly cold, there would always be a group of students playing basketball around 8 and 9PM.  After a long day of traveling around the city, a group of girls and I would purchase some soothing and delicious ice cream and watch these students run back and forth on the court.  Rarely were there other girls joining the games and the boys didn’t seem to mind us cheering them on.

Now if there is one game I dislike, it is TRUTH or DARE.  I don’t mind the truth part; if there are good questions, I usually have a good answer.  However I have noticed the older I become, the more elaborate and increasingly more embarrassing the dares become.  But “come on, this is Korea” was what my friends said when they started playing.  “You don’t know these people,” they told the shy me to calm down and suck it up.  Because, I guess, it will be fun.  It may not have been fun but it makes for a good story.

One night, we girls sat enjoying our cool ice cream and watching the boys play basketball.  The sun had gone down, the scarce basketball court lamps were on.  We sat, huddled together, discussing the basketball play and the overall excitement of everyone’s day.  Then the game TRUTH or DARE ensued.  The dares started out innocent with a small cheer for the boy that kept missing the hoop or an awkward dance while listening with headphones.  (As innocent as those are, I still wouldn’t have had the guts to accomplish them.)  Then my dare came and I closed my eyes and asked, “Why am I being punished?” Was I having fun?  A little.

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There were limited seating at the basketball court so we shared a stoop with the boys that were out during the basketball game.  They were so close that all one would have to do was scooch over and be a part of their group.  And that is exactly what I had to do.  *face palm*

I gave my friends the “Why are you making me do this? I think I might be sick” face and moved an inch by inch.  To my left was one of the basketball players, drinking Powerade and distracted by his teammates, in conversation.  When his head was turned, I moved an inch.  Frankly, this is the day that my friends found out I was part ninja, slyly inching over to their group.  It was something out of a weekend cartoon.

The boy looked in my direction, avoiding eye contact, not really looking at me at all.  I averted my gaze and spoke to my friends who urged me to continue.  I could tell I was as red as a tomato and all the blood was rushing to my head, giving me an annoying headache.  The boy looked away.  I took my chance and inched ever closer.  He said something to a friend—not about me or the girls, just something about the game.  I took a bite of my ice cream.  He checked his phone.  I inched closer, invading my own personal space by completing the challenge.  The girls cheered: a completely rational response at a basketball course, though no one was cheering about what was happening in basketball but that I had succeeded in the dare.

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Not wanting to be there more than necessary, I bolted for the exit as quickly as possible.  My friends sent chiding remarks at me.  The boys on the bench, at this point, had noticed something was going on.  As they all turned their heads to follow my friends’ gazes, it was the moment when my foot decided to trip over the other—landing me into the high basketball court’s fence.  I know it is such a high school-thing to say but “I thought I would die from embarrassment.” My friends were laughing.  The boys were just staring.  I caught myself easily and walked a little faster toward the court’s exit.  Later I heard from my friends that the students on the bench gave my friends the most hateful glare, judging them with what-kind-of-friends-are-you look and it made me a feel a little bit better.  Because I knew at least someone was on my side. (gifs: Flower Boy Next Door, not a true representation of what happened)

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Riding Solo Not Allowed Pt. 2

A while back, I wrote a post about the sense of community in Korea, sharing food, and couple outfits.  I thought I would add a bit on the subject of being alone in Korea is kind of, you know, lonely and what better day to do it on than Valentine’s Day.

Since I’m back in America, I can’t really comment how South Korea is handling Valentine’s Day but even in America, being single on Valentine’s Day is sort of annoying.    Most of my friends have significant others, which is fabulous and I wish we deemed it culturally acceptable to wear couple outfits because than New York would be a whole lot cuter! However, being the single one among friends with others reminds me a lot of my time in Korea.  Also, I figure that being single on Valentine’s Day in South Korea is ten times worse.

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There is a pressure in South Korea to find someone and to find someone fast.  I don’t know if I can explain it correctly.  There is a certain pressure by society- even when you consider the food culture- to find a significant other.  And I don’t even think that this aspect of culture is done consciously.

While walking in a park neIMG_2364ar Mapo Bridge, I once counted all of the couples I saw in the next five minutes.  Before beginning, I didn’t think my experiment would hold such astounding results.  Mind you, I was walking (not strolling) so I made pretty good time in the next five minutes.  After I counted over 100 couples, I stopped counting and the five minutes weren’t even up yet. The pressure to have someone is because everyone else has one.

When you are with another person of the opposite sex, you are automatically assumed to be a couple.  Even if you are just friends, you need to know that going outside together, you are subjecting yourselves to possible stops on the street of older women commenting how cute you look together.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with this.  However, it just shows the sort of pressure society has on people.

As a freshman in college, the students that I talked to recalled going on tons of dates.  Why?  To meet someone to stay with for the next four years.  Yeah, the pressure is on.

This pressure may go unnoticed by a lot of people but most exchange students have noticed itIMG_3656, at least the ones I knew noticed something amiss (well, they noticed something a-there).  Also, Lotte, a major corporation in Korea, is not helping.  Lotte created a holiday to increase Pepero (빼빼로) sales, where consumers must give 빼빼로to the ones they are crushing on (it happens on November 11).  Who needs another holiday like Valentine’s Day, if you are single?

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In other news, which could tie into the pressure to get someone is the amount of PDA (Public Display of Affection) one sees on campus.  I wasn’t expecting it.  In America, PDA on campus is something I don’t see very often which could be because a variety of variables including weather, location, and co-ed dorms.  On campus in South Korea, there were spots around campus that could be retitled as Make-Out Spots (gif below: Discovery of Romance kiss in park scene).  I only say this because I saw so much PDA in these certain spots on different times with different people, during my trip there.  When I mentioned seeing PDA to some of my friends, they were shocked in hearing that people do such a thing.  The only reason they told me was that South Korea is becoming more Westernized.

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In Korea, the pressure to be with someone hurts after a while.  It is like having Valentine’s Day everyday.  And with the holiday of Black Day, single people are not really celebrated in South Korea.  And I think that’s sad.

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Beyond the Interview: Sora Kim-Russell

08^883618 1Shin060814.jpgWhile in Korea, I had the fantastic opportunity to meet with Sora Kim-Russell, the lovely woman who translated I’LL BE RIGHT THERE by Kyung-Sook Shin.  I had such a wonderful time.  Here’s a preview of the interview:

During the process of translating I’ll Be Right There, what was the nature of your relationship with Kyung-sook Shin, the author?  How much contact and collaboration went on?
There was a fair amount of contact and collaboration, especially compared to other translation projects I’ve worked on, but it was mainly during the revision and editing stages.  I usually save my questions for the writer until I’ve completed the rough draft, because I like the idea of being alone with the book and having my own understanding of it. It makes it easier to immerse yourself in the characters’ lives.  But once that stage of translation was done, I began going back and forth with the writer, both to clarify parts of the text that were unclear or confusing and to discuss changes and alterations that were made in the translation. In some cases, that meant just a quick email to confirm a detail, and in other cases, we had face-to-face meetings to discuss the book.
Could you talk a little about the process of identifying and then translating the voice of Jung Yoon, the protagonist of I’ll Be Right There?
It was definitely challenging at first.  When I first started translating the book, I didn’t feel a strong personal identification with the character, so there was a process, for me, of understanding her and understanding what makes her tick, why she reacts to things the way she does, why she says the things she says.  But at some point it all clicked, and it became much easier to capture her voice. For example, one specific challenge was her tendency to hold back—when other characters say things to her, she doesn’t always answer immediately but instead echoes their words back to them. Her emotions are projected onto the world around her rather than being stated outright. I found this indirectness tricky to connect with emotionally, but once I’d read and translated the entire book and saw how the pieces fit together, she suddenly made sense to me. I noticed how it wasn’t just about the things she says directly but also the way she views the world, the details that she lingers over—in other words, not just her direct dialogue and thoughts but all of the narrative sentences in between. That was where her personality revealed itself to me.
Don’t just get spoiled with the preview, go check out the full interview HERE.  The interview was fascinating and insightful.  But everyone knows that what one gets on camera is not the whole story.  (It’s not like I filmed the interview either so actually, I didn’t get anything on camera– but you understand what I’m saying.)  The real questions and discussion didn’t start until after I was done asking the questions I planned for my website.
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돈까스

My journey to the interview will be posted another day because that was an adventure all by itself.  However, after I stopped recording the words, our discussion shifted.  Ms. Sora Kim-Russell is an awesome person and wonderfully-easy to talk to.  You know me: here I was, freaking out.  I mean I was about to meet this amazing translator (go read I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-sook Shin RIGHT NOW) who translated this awe-inspiring book.  I was nervous, like super nervous– ready to pass out.  I just had lunch a few hours before (돈까스, so delicious!) and I thought I may be sick.  However, Ms. Sora Kim-Russell was so nice.
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Our discussion was filled with random things brought upon previous responses.  I remember us talking about writing and Korean literature, Netflix and Seoul.  I had an awesome time meeting and speaking with her.
shin-140428-1Before I left, Ms. Sora Kim-Russell signed my book.  It now sits on my shelf, next to the novel in Korean.  It really is a wonderful piece of art.  Check out my book review HERE.
I left the interview an hour or so after we had begun.  The air was a bit chill, greeting me as I exited the underground complex of 이대, Ewha Womans University.   I stood there for a moment, clutching the newly-signed book and thought about how lucky I was to be there.
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Thank you.

Fan Upgrade

Spending my birthday in Korea was awesome and yet terribly sad.  Sad because I was away from my family and friends that I’ve known forever.  I didn’t get a cake or even seaweed soup (since I heard that is what I was supposed to be eating on my birthday in Korea).  No one sang to me and no one threw me a party.  But who needs all that?

I turned 21 years old in Korea.  That is awesome.  I spent the entire day in Gangnam.  You might have heard of the place.  There is a song that released a few years ago by the title “Gangnam Style” that parodies the whole area.

The area is pretty cool.  Department stores that reach far into the sky.  Filming locations that fans will recognize from their favorite music videos and tv shows.  Malls that scour deep underground with endless shopping and walking galore.  Women walking in the highest of high heels.  Men strutting a suit and a matching tie, looking so good that it is hard to look at anything except the uneven sidewalk.  But you should definitely be keeping an eye out for the uneven sidewalk since you don’t want your face to meet it if you trip over a block that sticks out.

Well, welcome to Gangnam.

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I had been there once before and took a bus ride tour, ate at a famous Japanese noodle restaurant, visited a quiet temple, and went underground to shop.  This time we stayed above ground.  This time we decided to take a behind-the-scenes look at Korea’s music industry.  Armed with a map, we scouted out entertainment agency buildings to see what the hype was with each one.

The group, two friends, that I was with are huge fans of Kpop, Korean pop music.  I have my favorite Korean bands but some of the music is not to my liking.  However, since Gangnam is home to several agencies, we wanted to come say hello.

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First stop: SM Entertainment.  SM Entertainment is best known for groups like Super Junior, Girl’s Generation, and SHINee.  I guess they are also known for fans that stare daggers into your soul.  We arrived at the agency.  We just wanted to take pictures of the exterior, looking in on a place that produces some of Kpop’s best known music.  Since we were walking so much, I was forced to change shoes.  Our plans had changed somewhere since the beginning and I wasn’t exactly dressed for walking, wearing ballet flats that were digging into the back of my heel.  We took some pictures but these girls kept getting in the way of this perfect shot.  Since these girls also occupied most of the benches out front, I changed into the only other pair of shoes I had on me at the time- high heels, while balancing on a friend’s shoulder.  They were all like robots that caught someone with a malfunction.  Every head turned to my shoes, as if I was a threat.  The air was thick with anticipation, wondering what my group was going to do next.  It was at that moment that my two friends and I realized who these girls were.

These were fans but not the kind of fans that like a band and will go to a concert to see them.  These fans can’t wait until a concert.  They have to see their favorite band now.  These fans wait outside these buildings day in and day out, watching and waiting for people to come in and out.

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Before a fight could break out, we were on our way to the next building.  FNC Entertainment.  Best known for my favorite bands, CNBlue and FTIsland.  Girls stood outside this building too.  It was so interesting to us that they respected an invisible boundary.  They did not huddle by the door but rather crowd in the streets.  However these girls seem to smell intention.  Pulled out of deep conversation with their standing friends, a man with dark shades walks out of the side door that is visible from the front gate.  He wastes no time getting his helmet on and rides off in his motorcycle.  As soon as he crossed this invisible boundary, the girls start chasing him—him on his motorcycle, them in cute skirts.  They do it for a chance to meet them, for a chance that the guy underneath the helmet may be their favorite singer from their favorite band.

My friends and I were astounded that Korea would be home to a very different fan culture than we were used to.  I’m sure there are fans like this in America but I feel like they are a bit more hidden than Korea.  At least, I feel like the America’s building security would have taken care to not have fans loitering in the streets 24/7.

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We also visited JYP Entertainment and CUBE studio.

It was so interesting to experience this type of fan culture.  Can you imagine skipping school or work for a potential chance to see your favorite singer walk in to work?  It astounds me.

Sadly, the few minutes that we did mill around the buildings to take pictures, we did not catch anybody that we recognized.

Overall, it was a good 21st birthday, despite the lack of cake and seaweed soup.  It was awesome spending a birthday in another country and being able to travel around Gangnam.

And speaking of robots, I’m currently obsessed with this song (but not so obsessed to wait outside their building to catch a glimpse of them) and keep listening to it everyday:

Riding Solo Not Allowed

It’s midterm week here at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and I have absolutely nothing to occupy my time.  I barely have any midterms which surprises me immensely since I am taking regular courses.  However, that is a post for another day.  Today I want to discuss the sense of community that all of South Korea has.

If you know Korean culture at all, you should know that it is a sharing community.  I don’t mean sharing as in: “Please pass the corn.” “Thank you.” No, not like that.  I mean, using the same spoon, eating out of the same bowl—basically the equivalent of French kissing everyone at the table, swapping spit with everyone.  I know that sounds gross and everyone is definitely sharing germs.  However, it grows on you and I sort of love it.  Plus, I haven’t gotten sick since I got here and we are already at midterms. (Photo: the big bowl was shared amongst the whole table)

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Sharing everything, mainly food, has opened my eyes at this Korean sense of community.  Sharing food so intimately with everyone, whoever it may be (friends, strangers, coworkers, ect.), really builds your relationship.  The act of sharing food is so intimate to me since in America the only thing we share are appetizers.  Though even sometimes people want those all to themselves.  “Those nachos are mine. Not yours.”

In Korea, it’s another story and even though it may take some getting used to, it is really awesome.  Not only do you get to try more variety of food this way but you become closer with the person you are eating with.  Now the question here is: what if you’re alone?  What if you have no one?

That’s the problem.  It is quite difficult to eat anywhere if you are alone.  Forget about eating alone, if you are in public.  Unless you find a coffee shop, where you can arm yourself with a cellphone or a book, eating alone in public is not going to work.  Most of the dishes in Korea are meant for two or more people, so even getting fried chicken to go is basically stating that you have a friend back home who will eat with you.  They are going to give you at least ten pieces of chicken.

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It’s hard being alone in South Korea.  There are tons of other reasons but I’ll once again make this post have multiple parts so stay tuned of being alone in Korea.

The next post will focus on couples and the relationships but I wanted to touch upon the cuteness now because I can.  You can’t walk down the street and not see at least one couple doing something couple-like (holding hands, ect.).  They are everywhere.  And sometimes they are even easier to spot because they have some sort of couple wear on.  Everyone should be aware of the idea of promise rings, even though the idea is very old-fashioned and not really practiced much in America anymore.  Promise rings is basically the exchanging of rings, a statement that this couple is committed.  Well, Korea takes it to a whole different level.  You can walk down the street and see couples in matching shoes, matching bracelets, matching backpacks, literally matching anything and everything.  And when I say: takes it to a whole new level: couples will match everything.  I’ve seen couples, more than one, on numerous occasions, dressed exactly the same.  Whatever this is doing to their relationship, it is working.  Divorce rate in South Korea must have something to do with their couple culture.  Not only mentioning their outfits but just how couples act toward each other in general.  The divorce rate in America is around 50%, where any sort of couple wear would probably be made fun of or looked down upon.  In South Korea, the rate is at 36% (according to wikipedia, because I am currently pressed for time but will try to find a valid source later).  I think it would be fascinating to study couple culture and for my final project, in one of my classes, I’m examining a part of the relationship culture (so maybe I’ll even post my findings when I’m finished). (Photo: The Heirs… notice the matching shoes)

With all these couples, South Korea seems to discourage single people.  They even have a day devoted to sad single people.  It is called Black Day (April 14) and it’s a day, where single people have to eat black noodles alone.  It sounds utterly terrible and I’m sort of glad, I won’t be around to participate in the holiday.  It sounds like a holiday where the people who made it wanted all the single people to sit in a corner and think about what they’ve done.

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If you are alone in South Korea, like I am, don’t be too upset.  The goal here is to make friends fast, or at least find another person to eat food with.  Otherwise, Seven 11 and other convenience stores may become your only friend.

A Way Out (Korean Society Pt 1)

Being in South Korea is awesome!  I am truly having the time of my life; this is such a great opportunity!  As a tourist, if I had stayed for only a week or two, I don’t think I would notice half the things I do.  However, as an exchange student, living in Korea for four months, I tend to notice the daily workings of Korean society.  There is several things I want to say about general society, so I think this will be put into parts.

First, when I arrived in this country, I was armed and prepared to take on all the stares thrown my way.  I am different, and staring was expected.  However, attending a school that emphasizes its global-ality, I wasn’t expecting so much stares from students my age.  Still they come, targeting me day in and day out and I want to say that I have gotten used to it.  For the most part, the stares don’t really bother me.  They are not hurting me with their laser beams so one just has to endure.  It is going to be different when I go back to the United States, where no one really looks at me twice.

Another thing I noticed, in the first few weeks I arrived, was the EXIT signs that adorn the underground subway systems and telling people where the way out is.  It is a picture of a person running out of the door.  I find this in the most comedic light because when exiting in America, those in charge always comment to make your way “calmly” forward and to “walk, not run.”

Still, my favorite thing about Korean society is the underlying emphasis on respect everywhere but with that comes its own problems.  I love it but realize the system is terribly flawed.  People give respect to those in a hierarchical sense, so it would always be the elders receiving the respect and they can either give you some too or act in any way they please.

I’ve heard that this is a common complaint among foreigners and no matter how much foreigners or even younger Korean people complain, I don’t think there is anything we can do to change the system.

Older people of Korea has superiority which is rightfully so, they’ve lived longer, they know more—in theory, giving them higher ranking than everyone else should be allowed.  However, some elders take this superiority to their advantage.  Just with any power, some people abuse it.

There are older people, surprisingly strong people, who will push and shove you forcefully out of the way (this happens mostly on the subway).  There are older people who even go as far to think they are above the law.  I’ve seen older people go through the subway turnstiles without paying the fare; the security guard looks on the scene with suspicious eyes but doesn’t dare to say a thing.

I was thinking, on the subway, once about what if WHAT WOULD YOU DO? aired in Korea—(1) there is no way the show would air unless the problem would consist of an older person, or elder to the bully, being the victim and (2) the “bullies” in the TV show could never appear as an elder person because of Korean society, because someone could always say, “Well. they should have been given respect.”  Elder people are always right—elder people will always have the right of way, so to speak.

I am, in no way, saying everyone is like this.  Actually, living here as long as I have, the older people of Korea are the ones who seem to approach me the most.  They don’t seem so timid to ask where I am from, how am I doing, or even just to practice their English.  The young people or even the students at college do not make the effort to try to talk to me, either out of being introverted or just because they don’t like me, I’m not sure.  I love the elderly people of Korea and I do respect them and I think the respect system at work here is definitely cool!

In general, the system of respect gives people power and in the words of Spiderman, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Some take that power and abuse it and that is why so many foreigners and young people complain.

If you are living in South Korea or have traveled here, if they were to air WHAT WOULD YOU DO?, what kind of scenarios do you think they would play?

 

That Hostel Horror Story

Every person in their life should have at least one Hotel Horror Story.  The worst story of staying in a hotel for me was when I went to Disney World in Orlando, Florida and we came in the room to find a take-out salad in the drawer with the Bible.  Now that’s disgusting and my horror story for South Korea is less so.

The story is less filled with horror, and more filled with annoyance and my need to complain.  For those of you who don’t know, a hostel is basically a backpackers paradise.  It is where mostly young people stay while traveling because it is a cheap form of a pillow under your head for the night.  Since this is my first time abroad, I thought I’d check out what the hype was.

download (1)We arrived in Seoul at 4AM, way too early for my time but since not used to the time change yet, relatively okay.  (I traveled with one of my friends from school, Raquel.) Both of us carried 4 months worth of suitcases, which is not ideal at a hostel.  (Like I said, backpackers paradise).  I knew this going in.  There have always been those rumors, or fictional books chiming how everyone should at least try a hostel once in their life time.  So I did. (Pic: me at the airport, just arrived at Seoul!)

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Since we arrived so early, I borrowed a phone from a nice woman and proceeded to call the hostel- after about the thousandth ring, she picked up.  I explained the situation and she was glad to keep our suitcases before check-in while we went and explored the area.  I’m not about to name the hostel because I did meet some cool people there but still, my experience with hostels are over.  I will not be staying in one ever again.

When we arrived, there didn’t seem to be anyone working there.  We dragged our suitcases up the stairs and after talking to some girls, found that the woman sleeping on the couch was, in fact, the one who I had talked on the phone.  She woke up enough to tell us where to put our suitcases and then swiftly went back to sleep.  Mind you, she didn’t check our paperwork, nor IDs which I thought was odd.  We had reservations but I thought it strange because we could be anyone in the world.  She did not know us by our faces.

After the day of exploring and getting lost, we were ready to sleep forever since we were both so jet lagged. We arrived during check in time- check in time was 3PM (why so late? Probably because she likes to sleep the day away).  And guess what? She decides then to tell us that we can’t stay there that night due to an overbooking.  She suggested another hostel close by that was almost the same price.  She paid the difference.

We dragged most of our luggage to the other place and slept the rest of the day.  In the morning, even though given the option to stay there the remaining two nights we had reserved, the woman in charge of this hostel promptly, yet quietly, kicked us out.

Thus we moved back to the original hostel and spent the rest of the nights getting eaten by mosquitoes.  Is it the worst place I’ve stayed at? No.  However, considering I’m sure most hostel stories don’t end up like this, I wanted to share.

Let me tell you: I’ve had the hostel experience.  I think I’ll stick with regular hotels from now on.  At least, Motel 6 will always leave the light on for me.