Monthly Archives: July 2016

Korea trip day 3: Seoul

Yesterday was a social day, meeting two of my old language partners. The first for 샤부샤부 lunch, the second in the afternoon and for 삼겹살 dinner in another part of Seoul.

The lunch place was the first I have ever been to where I had to take off my shoes. Look at the difference between my pair of sandals bought in Italy and those bought in Korea. Which ones are easier to slip off at such a restaurant?

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At lunch my friend insisted on ordering (he told me he picked non-spicy options to ensure I wouldn’t be overwhelmed) as well as putting things on my plate whenever I ran out of food. This was something, which surprised me so he made sure to tell me that if I ever date a Korean guy and he doesn’t serve for me, I should consider it a big. red. flag. I don’t mind the serving part if that really makes their day, but I’m not sure I would necessarily notice a lack of serving since I’m not used to it in the first place, and I’m not so sure either that I would entrust just any guy with ordering food for me. Especially considering how quickly my friend then proceeded to ask me why I hadn’t eaten live octopus yet…

Acknowledging that I need to get around and to have access to some sort of map system, and I’m the kind of person who keeps the number of apps on my phone at an absolute minimum since I loathe that 98 % of them require access to everything on the phone, I figured maybe I should get myself a Korean phone where I could download all the app recommendations that were thrown at me. My friend was game. Let’s go hunting for a phone! So far so good – or so I thought…

A telecom company told us that unless I had an alien registration card, it simply wouldn’t be possible – unless we went directly to Samsung/LG/pick-a-brand, which would be able to sell the phone without signing me up for a plan. My past couple of phones have been Samsung, I’ve been really happy with them, and my work will give me an iphone for work purposes, so we went to the Samsung shop. The selection wasn’t overwhelming, but I found one that I liked, the clerk assured us that it would work with foreign sim cards too if I needed it, and he found a purchasing contract for me to sign. It would appear that this would be the end of that story, but no; this is really just the beginning.

As soon as he had looked intently at us and given us the “no way back now”-nod, opened the box with surgical precision, and opened the the phone, he realised that my sim card is a standard sim card whereas the phone requires a micro sim card. Thankfully my current Korean sim card is a combination sim card where a micro version can be pressed out of the center of the card. It FIT! However, the phone still didn’t work…

Did I have a pre-paid sim card? erm, yes… I’m a foreigner, I’m here on vacation, and that was why it was so important that the phone was unlocked and compatible with other sim cards. At this point my friend decided to try and lighten the mood by suggesting that I just use it as some sort of art installation at home in case they couldn’t make it work. Very helpful…

Apparently the issue is that buying phones without plans, and using pre-paid sim cards is not only a strategy used by harmless tourists, but also people whose career paths would have a tendency to cross paths with law enforcement. I was told that in order for the phone to “eat my sim card”, it would have to have a regular sim card with a plan first. Essentially it’s a way to ensure that people don’t buy a “burner phone”. However, I have to admit to having a slight difficulty seeing that problem as I had to show my passport in order to even get the prepaid sim card and sign a receipt including my home address and home phone number to get the phone, but alright.

Ever the problem solver, my friend pulled his own sim card from his phone. Alas… his was a nano sim card… The clerk therefore asked if I had another sim card that he could try to cut into micro size? I pulled 4 sim cards from my wallet which made both my friend’s and the clerk’s eyes go wide. He was only 80 % sure it would work, so I opted to keep my Danish sim card safely tucked away.

Just like he promised, it accepted other sim cards (it’s currently hosting an old British sim card, the new British one living in a third phone), but since that isn’t a Korean sim card, it didn’t have the desired effect, and I therefore have to use the Korean sim card in my regular phone and then use that phone as a hotspot for the new one. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, although it sure can look a little shady to pull out various phones and start shuffling around sim cards. New phone

I made the mistake of trying to log into my kakao account on the new one without having some sort of back-up ready, which just deleted every chat and picture I have exchanged… whyyyyy???! getting the new sim card didn’t cause anything like that so I’m quite annoyed about that part.

Dinner with my other friend was great as well. It was rather hot in the restaurant because of all of the grilling going on, but it was a really great experience. Here is what the grill looked like: In the center you have the charcoal, and on each side you can insert spears with meat and mushrooms. Delicious!

The restaurant was structured a bit like an old car workshop with various tools stacked different places. Customers who had to wait to be seated were given these tools to indicate where in the queue they were – the bigger the tool, the longer the wait!

This also marked my first trip to 강남 😉DSC06402

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Seoul day 2

Last night I fell asleep at around 3:20 Korean time and due to being super sleep deprived in the first place, I only got up at around 1 pm. My mid-afternoon “breakfast” consisted of white chocolate cheese cake and a capuccino – breakfast of a champion.

By 4 I met one of my Italki tutors, who insisted I get a Korean simcard so I wouldn’t be forced to rely on finding wifi in case I get lost somewhere. She had therefore found a place where the sim cards would be compatible with my phone, and now I’m a Korean phone number richer. After that we rushed to see the play 옥탑방고양이. The play was entirely in Korean, and was both cute and funny. We were two minutes late, so we didn’t get the seats riiiiight in front, but those who got our seats were included in the performance by the actors sometimes, so I was actually a little relieved that we got a bit “safer” seats.

That, however, didn’t mean that the entire hall didn’t notice I was there. One of the actors literally stopped in the middle of a sentence and exclaimed excitedly “there is a foreigner today! do you speak Korean well??” I replied with the universal gesture for so-so which made the whole room laugh. He then switched to English to ask for my nationality, and my reply caused a resounding “OOOOOOOH!” from the whole audience. Yep, definitely blending in…

Afterwards I and my tutor had our pictures taken with the actors (everybody was offered, it wasn’t a special thing for us), and they will be uploaded on Naver. We waited to be the last ones to draw the least amount of attention, but not everyone had left the hall, and apparently we were such a sight, that others also had to have pictures of us as well on their phones… I have no other way to explain the coinciding flashes from their cell phones…

After the play we went for a Korean dinner at a nearby restaurant and a quite decent amount of 막걸리.
Here are some pictures of all of the food, including fish cake soup, Korean pancake with squid and veggies, a dried kind of fish normally used as a side dish for alcohol, it had a “friend” with some other dried stuff, and the big bowl of veggies.

The size of that bowl of 막걸리 was a bit shocking at first…

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That being said, we were of course more than willing to take on a challenge…

In spite of barely drinking in my day to day life, I wasn’t affected by the alcohol – except for being uncharacteristically calm when telling the taxi 아저씨 that he could let me off at a corner because he couldn’t spot the hotel, which was hidden because of the angle from which we were approaching, and I (finally) recognised the surroundings. He replied in Korean if it would really be okay, and we fixed the payment – in Korean.

I’m used to making my way round alone, and I never really gave it much thought before, but here I’m actually nervous about getting lost. I don’t have the same happy-go-lucky attitude about geography that I had when I moved to Stockholm or Milan to study, or when I as a teen once called my brother at work in London after having taken a wrong turn on the way home from the supermarket and ALL the houses just looked the SAME!!! (I’m standing in front of XYZ embassy and I’m pretty sure I didn’t pass it on my way there… any tips?”.

This city is BIG. According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, there were over 10 million registered Korean residents in Seoul by April 1st 2016. To that you need to add more than quarter of a million registered foreigners. In comparison, my entire home country population counts 5.6 million people… All of a sudden it’s not just a feeling of having many more opportunities to do something, but also a feeling of “how far away is that really?”. And “is my Korean good enough if I get lost?”. “How much time should I keep as a buffer to ensure I will be able to find my friend at XYZ metro stop before he thinks I ditched him?”. “Maybe I should have gotten a card from the hotel with their address before I left…”. I guess the good thing about standing out the way I apparently do is that it should be possible to find someone willing to offer help and directions if I ask, but it also feels a bit weird.

Even my Korean friends rely on maps to get around. Maybe it’s just too much to expect that I would be able to move around as freely as I have other places.

First day in Seoul

Today I finally arrived in Seoul! I’m the type of person who will doze off before take-off if not actively kept awake on a plane so I had hopes I would sleep a lot on my way here if I could stay awake during the first part of the trip. Well, I managed ok on my way to Helsinki (flight no. AY 666 to HEL – Finnish humour?), reading a couple of pages of my book and looking out the window before the inevitable slumber kicked in, but during the 8h 30 min flight to Seoul, it proved a little more difficult than usual.

My neighbour was a chatty young guy named 준수 who just barely managed to ask about my name before he asked if I had a boyfriend, proceeded to showing pictures of his girlfriend, and telling me about doing 수능 twice in order to go to medical school. He was nice enough, but by the time he got around to watching Kung Fu Panda, and I got to fill in my landing card, I thought I might as well have the dinner before trying to nap.

I managed to see one and a half movie and realise I had a “ballet ally” when we spotted each other doing variations of barre exercises in the back of the plane to keep our blood supply to all limbs towards the end of the flight before I managed to sleep at about 6:30 am Korean time.

One of my friends waited for me at the airport, helped get me a T-money card and some cash before going with me to my hotel. Since we were too early for check-in we went for (a very much needed) coffee before having lunch in a little street market where you have to exchange current day money into old-fashioned 냥 to buy food. My friend took a few pictures and I look happy, but so incredibly tired.

We spent the entire day looking at the city in walking distance from my hotel – a few min from the statue of 이순신, bought a few things, ate 빙수, and had 불고기 for dinner. Such a great day!

Today’s weird:

1) A random stall 아줌마 at the food market almost managed to surprise-feed me corn by sticking her hands in my face while I was speaking with my friend. I didn’t see that coming.

2) A Korean boy got to claim the prize for my first good Korean stare down when he downright stopped for a moment to just watch me when he was walking by us at lunch at the market. I was the only non-Korean there. Apart from that I haven’t had that many looks or maybe I just didn’t notice them. 

3) I’ve seen 송준기 in more posters than I would care to count where he looks suggestively at the camera while posing for a brand called “Kolon Sport”. I had to point out to my friend that they  would probably receive attention for entirely different reasons in Denmark, and now my friend cannot help but notice them e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e! I completely ruined them for her… Her father has outdoor clothes from that brand… oopsie…

No wifi in new flat

As you know, I now have my own flat (will move this week!), and with moving comes expenses… going through line items in my budget a while ago, I noted that phone/internet/state license fees add up to quiiiite a bit on a yearly basis.

The last bit might need a bit of explaining for non-Danes. Here in Denmark, you’re required to pay a license fee to the state if you have a TV/tablet/computer/smartphone whether or not you actually use the device to access public service media. This alone adds up to a couple of hundred of dollars per year – for access to programmes I never watch… Looking through my budget to locate other things that stood out, my eyes fell on the broadband and my phone bill. Maybe I could do with just the data plan on my phone? With the working hours I am going to keep when I start working full time from September, I won’t have time to spend hours online at home anyway and my mum thinks it sounds nice if I would come home to watch dramas together with her sometimes on weekends anyway.

I couldn’t find a plan online which matched my needs so I called my phone provider to ask about possibilities to remodel my plan so I would have more data and fewer calling hours included. The guy on the other end of the line told me that actually they were planning to launch a new product which would have a structure much more suitable for my needs and which happened to be half the price of my existing plan. He offered to sign me up for some sort of waiting list and when it finally launched he would change my plan and refund the difference in price that would have accrued while I was on the waiting list. Yes please!!! My new plan is now functional and I got a notice that I will get money back 🙂

The result is that I won’t have wifi at home, but I will only have 15 GB data per month, which should be enough to keep up with my skyping sessions with my family abroad and with my Korean tutors and language partner, e-mails, the odd search for information and blogging – assuming I write while offline. But I probably won’t have data for much more than that… That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as I’m trying to spend less time online as it is. Who knows, maybe I will even end up studying much more Korean when my internet access diminishes radically 😉

배에 왕 자 생기다

Today my language partner asked me if I was keeping up with my training and I enthusiastically confirmed that I am. Have I gotten better? yep! I proudly told him about a success I had this week.

“배에 왕 자 생겼어요?” Wait, what??? At first I automatically thought of 왕자 (prince) rather than 왕 자 (“Chinese character for 왕/king”) courtesy of my past 사극-binges, which certainly didn’t improve my understanding.

The Chinese character for 왕 is of course 王 so what he was asking me was if I had gotten well defined abs! I confirmed again – naturally 😉 How about the arms then? Naah, not that much [cue me flexing my arms on camera]. He begged to differ – there was some definition.

배에 왕 자 생기다… I guess “chocolate abs” are still a guy-thing, though 😀

New flat

Today I got the keys to my new flat! It almost seems a little surreal.

So far I’ve had the locks changed, defrosted the freezer, done cartwheels in my new living room, talked to the friend of the family who will kindly help me paint and fix a few things, and just tried to wrap my head around the fact that I’m a home owner.

Now it’s just a matter of time before the paint is dry and I can move my own little Korean/law library into my new space 🙂