Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seoul Searching

A few weekends ago, my co-worker (Alix) and I decided to take a trip to Seoul. A friend of mine from university (Mandie) had just moved to Seoul to begin teaching. Since I had yet to visit the capital city, I figured St. Paddy's weekend was a fine time to go. So we went!

There are a number of ways to get to Seoul from Busan. You can take a bus, which is the cheapest way to go, but also the slowest. There are two different trains, the "slow" train or the "fast" KTX. And then of course, you always have the option to fly. We decided to take the KTX there and back. It was about 50,000 won each way and only took about 2 1/2 hours. In my opinion, the KTX is the most efficient way to get to Seoul. It was comfortable, fast, and took you right to the heart of the city.

We went to several different parts of Seoul, though I'd be hard-pressed to tell you exactly what they were called. We wound up in Itaewon, which I would describe as the foreigner or tourist district of the city. It was built up around the military base, so naturally there are a lot of foreigners in the area.

But let me make myself clear. I think there are a lot of foreigners here in Busan, depending on what part of the city you're in. But Itaewon was different. For a moment walking down the street, I felt like I was back in Normal, Illinois on my college campus. There were young kids everywhere in every direction I looked. I knew that Itaewon would be full of Westerners, but I guess I didn't realize the extent of it.

In Busan, almost every foreigner you meet is a teacher of some sort. Rarely have I met anyone here with a different story, although I occasionally do. In Seoul, I only talked to a handful of people who were actually teaching. Most of them were in Korea because it was military related.

We went to several different bars in both Itaewon and Hongdae (another popular area of the city). But I think what surprised me most of all was the fact that many of these establishments charged a cover. In university, I was used to and expected to pay cover almost every night I went out. But in Korea? I almost completely forgot about the concept until I saw a line out of a bar we wanted to go into.

Seoul was fun, don't get me wrong. It was great to see Mandie and catch up with her; nice to see a familiar face from home. And we did get a lot of luxuries that aren't avilable in Busan.

Taco Bell for instance:

And Forever 21:

And Bennigan's for dinner.

Yes, Bennigan's. The chain restaurant that couldn't stay open in America has finally found its niche in Korealand.

But for what it's worth, I am so happy I chose to work in Busan. In my opinion, Busan has a more laid-back atmosphere. People aren't always in such a rush. But maybe that's because there aren't as many people living here, which is another reason I like living in Busan. I grew up in a pretty small town, so I had a bit of a culture shock moving to a big city. I think my anxiousness would have sky rocketed if I moved straight to Seoul.

I love Korea on the whole and I admire every city I've been to so far. But my heart will always belong to Busan.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is this real life?

I'm not usually one to vent or complain about other people's ignorance. I don't use social networks or this blog as a soap box. I don't boast about my political affiliation or blast those who believe something different than me. But is has become apparent to me in the past few days that other people do, so if you'll allow me...

Let me begin by saying Japan was hit by a natural disaster I think very few of us will ever be able to comprehend. Lives were wrecked and uprooted in the course of a single day. Look around and be thankful for every single possession and infinitely more important, your health and the health of those around you.

Hearts were breaking around the world for those affected by this tragedy, yet some people still felt it necessary to use the Internet as a platform for what they felt needed to be said.

The first example I stumbled upon was a young college student attending UCLA. She posted a video about "Asians in the library," and how they all had downright terrible manners. She even went on to mention the Japanese students and although they were probably calling family members to make sure they were still alive, you could at least go outside. Right?

Wrong. She's come under a lot of heat about the video and although I do feel she should be reprimanded, I think it's gone a bit far. She's received threatening messages and her class schedule has been posted as to perhaps encourage violence. Let's not tolerate ignorance, but let's not spread hatred in the same foolish way.

I then came upon a video of another young woman saying that the catastrophe in Japan was straight from the hands of God. You see, Lent had just begun and Christians all around the world were praying for atheists to wake up. This, by all means, was God literally shaking the Japanese people and telling them to stop sleeping. Right?

Wrong. We aren't living in the times of the Old Testament. From what I've learned growing up, God is loving, compassionate and forgiving. Why would He punish innocent people? Innocent children, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers alike? And even more so, if that really is true, why would anyone want to worship and give thanks for such a disaster?

I think these two instances genuinely upset me since I too am a young American girl. I've lived in Asia for some time now and Korea is gut-wrenchingly close to Japan. I mourn for the Japanese people and all the work that has to be done in the next several years. How could people be so malicious? How could a human being be so inhuman?

But it doesn't take misfortune for some people to spread their own types of ignorance, unfortunately. Not only is YouTube being utilized, as the two examples above show, but Facebook has given a microphone to anyone and everyone, becoming a terrifying stage for those who choose to use it. Which is how I came upon this jewel of a status:

Expatriate: a person who has renounced his or her native country. Here are some suggestions on countries you can move to since you are so unhappy with the United States: Libya, Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Tibet, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, China, and Cuba. Re-post if you agree.

I was absolutely horrified and somewhat offended when I read this. I truly believe, with every inch of my being, that this is what makes Americans so unlikable. I have traveled to several countries in the past three years and never once have I felt uncomfortable, out of place or in real danger because of my heritage. Yet, I see people on Facebook proclaiming that "I shouldn't have to press 1 because I live in America and I speak English. Damnit!" As an expat living in South Korea for the last seven months, knowing no more than 35 Korean words, I am ashamed to know people that could be so unpleasant.

I suppose this is just out of frustration. In the wake of tragedy, I would like to see world citizens coming together. But it seems in dire times, we'd rather stick with what we know.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A (half) year in review

Ahh, yes. The halfway point contemplation. What have I been doing the last six months? How do I feel about the overall experience? Am I ever coming home?

Instead of spilling my guts, I'll direct you to a small piece I wrote for a travel blog (Do It While You're Young). This is how I feel about Busan, in a nutshell.

Click here for the story.