Sunday, September 29, 2013

Adventures in taking out the trash/recyclables

I feel like there are lots of wrappers / unnecessary packaging here in Korea, but I guess there are a lot in the states too.  The difference is that here you can recycle them, whereas in the states they would get thrown in the trash.  Korea is big on recycling.

Thanks to a new toaster oven in my apartment when I moved in, I've had a cardboard box in here during the past month.  It's where I've been throwing all of my various recyclables to avoid figuring out the sorting system outside.  Here's where you take trash/recyclables to outside of my building:

In that yellow trash bin is where you put food waste, which must be in a special yellow bag.  You can purchase the yellow plastic bags (for organic waste) and special white plastic bags (for non-organic waste) at supermarkets and convenience stores.  You must use those bags because the cost of removing the waste is included in the cost of the bag.

Ok so food waste in the yellow bin on the left.  Then in the hanging bags up against the brick half-wall with red/white signs are the recyclables.  I'm pretty sure there are only three categories here, but by peering inside the bags it wasn't exactly clear.  Hence why I've just been letting the recyclables stack up in my cardboard box.

And then I think the plastic bags on the ground in front of the recycling is waste and/or paper recyclables.  I think.

On Sunday afternoon I was in a productive mood.  I did laundry and cleaned up my apartment, so I thought it would be a good day to finally take out all my recyclables.  Also it was raining, and I didn't see anyone outside -- meaning I could figure out how to sort my recyclables in peace.

So I take my big box outside, set it on the trash bags and start putting stuff into the different bags.  The first two bags had thicker plastic in them, like water bottles and 2L soda bottles.  

The next one (which looks blue-ish in the picture) had some glass bottles inside, as well as other smaller wrappers and a mixture of things.  The last bag only had three aluminum cans in it.

So I added my big 2L water bottles to either of the first two bags, put my glass bottles in the blue bag, but wasn't exactly sure what to do with all of my other wrappers.  I started to just put them in the blue bag, but I was doubtful on the correctness of that.

Next thing I know, out of nowhere there's a woman standing right next to me, and she somehow takes my place and starts taking some stuff out of the bin and putting it back into my box!  She mumbled a few words to me, but I think she knew that I didn't know what she was saying (probably due to my silence during the whole thing).  So I awkwardly, silently stood there as I watched her grab the three cans from the far bag next and put them into my box.  I bet she thinks I can't read and put them in there, I thought.  Those weren't my cans!  I wanted to tell her.  I didn't put them in there!  She took a couple more things out of the blue bag and put them back into my box, then took my box over to what looked like a stack of cardboard on the ledge behind the yellow trash bin.  I slowly backed up, as it was clear the woman didn't want/need me there any more.  Then I turned around and went back inside.  

It was such a bizarre encounter.  I walked back upstairs thinking to myself, "What just happened?!"  And I still can't figure out where the heck she came from!  She must have been watching that trash/recyclables area like a hawk.  Later I thought maybe the trash got picked up on Sundays or Mondays, so she was there to organize it?  I will keep a lookout over the next few weeks, but in the meantime I'll enjoy the empty space where my big box once stood.
• • •

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sookmyung Saturday #4: Korean National Museum

This Saturday the UW TTGs who have regularly been going to Korean class met up at "our" kimbap place (second time eating there...) before class for lunch.  We got ddeokbokki, four different types of kimbap (one is shown below), and two plates of mandu.  Again, I paid just a little over $3 for my portion of all of that.  Yes! 

Today was our final (fourth) day of the Hangul class.  If we pass the test next week, we can start level 1!  We only had class for an hour today though (instead of than the regular two), because we had a field trip afterwards!

All of the different leveled classes went on the trip, so there were about 6 or 7 Koreans herding around 20+ foreigners through the metro on our way to the museum.  It was a funny sight.  I felt like a child, constantly being counted and regrouped.  They wanted the different classes to stay together, so I walked with my Hangul group (3 UW TTGs + teacher).

Before we even stepped foot inside, I was impressed with the appearance of the museum.

There were some performers just outside of the entrance, so we all stopped to watch for a few minutes.  These men were dressed in some sort of costume (traditional? I'm not sure), but they were breakdancing to pop music.  And then this one took off his shirt:

Some of the performers had a sort of streamer attached to their headpiece.  While playing their instrument and walking around, they kept the streamer in motion by moving their head.  That was neat to watch.

Then it was time to go inside.  While waiting for a few minutes inside (for what? I'm not sure), our baby Hangul class took a picture with our teacher:

Hangul class at Sookmyung University in Seoul!

Have I mentioned that the building was gorgeous?

We were all handed an English "self study guide" and instructed to answer questions 1 - 18 as we made our way through the museum.  Although the cover clearly stated that it was "for children and teenagers" and many of the questions were oh so simple, I rather liked having something to look for in each room.  The rooms were large and had so many displays; we would have been there forever if we hadn't had a small mission in each room.

I have also never been given a free self-study guide in any museum I've been to, so I was again impressed.

Here are some displays I saw:

Afterwards the instructors checked our answers (we got them all right!  ta-da!), and then gave us a museum notebook!  Finally, I hit up the museum's gift shop.  I actually made a few purchases there.  Know why?  Prices weren't ridiculously ridiculous like in U.S. museums!  Pictured below are my treasures: a magnet, two sets of Seoul postcards, stamp stickers, and my free notebook. 

I think I paid around $7 or $8 for all of that, and the postcard sets are really nice!  Most of the students went to dinner with the instructors afterwards, but I dipped out and headed home.

Leaving the Korean National Museum in the early evening
Although I left the museum at 18:30, I didn't get to my front door until 21:00.  Had I gone to dinner it would have been a much later night, and I wanted to get some things done before bed.


What is pictured below? Rather, what is their use?

• • •

Friday, September 27, 2013

Korea: Stationery jackpot

As many of you know, over the last year I've notably gone from just sending postcards while on trips to regularly sending snail mail to friends and family.  It's become a hobby of mine, something I spend a decent amount of my free time doing.  I joined the Letter Writers Alliance back in March, and have enjoyed using my birthday presents (notably rubber stamps and washi tape) to decorate cards and envelopes.

For the two and a half weeks in August that I was living with my parents before moving to South Korea, I had access to my mother's card-making/scrapbooking palace!  She has so many great supplies and gadgets for scrapbooking and card making.  In fact, I was so distracted by the workspace that I almost forgot we didn't have a dog!  Almost.  Ehh... not really.

Anyway, so I made cards:

And then I said goodbye to my family and friends, goodbye to the card-making room, goodbye to my dog and moved to Korea.  I brought my five rubber stamps, 4 rolls of washi tape, and markers along with me, but I knew my card-making days were over for the foreseeable future.  Little did I know, Korea is a paper person's heaven!

Cute stationery!  Colorful envelopes! Pretty paper! Neat notebooks!  And the best thing about it?  Cheap prices!  Here are some purchases I made during my first few weeks here:

Stationery sets
Stationery sets and notebook

Envelopes, journal, planner, notepad, envelopes

I'm already getting way ahead of myself with what I've bought -- and I've also decided that a good portion of a suitcase will probably be filled with paper products when I come home next year!

Who would have known.  Thank you, Korea!
• • •

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thankful Thursday: 9/26/13

[Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that began 1/10/13 - read why here.  I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!]

Happy birthday, sister!

I'm thankful for the good weather today.  It was a sunny afternoon -- not hot -- just pleasant.  As we were leaving school for the day, my co-teacher remarked that it was a good day for a walk.  She asked if I had ever walked up to the university in our town before.  I told her I had gone up during a run (but this was during my first week, I think).  Then it was time to part ways as she headed to her car and I headed out the front gate on foot.  

Now normally I would have just walked straight home, but she was right.  It was a gorgeous day, so I took a little walk around some streets I hadn't walked on yet, and then towards the university.  When I turned around and headed back towards my house, I decided to stop at a little park and read for a while.  I have not been finding time to read during the weeks; I've only been reading on my bus rides into Seoul on Saturdays.  So it was great to sit outside in the daylight and get some reading in before I returned to my apartment for the night.

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." 
-Thornton Wilder
• • •

Sookmyung Saturday #3: Shabu shabu

After spending the morning at the Seoul Folk Flea Market, we headed to our weekly Korean class (15:00 - 17:00).  During class our teacher told us that next week we'll only have class for the first hour, and then we're taking a field trip to the Korean National Museum -- neat!  It's been a long time since I've been on a school field trip of any sort.

Some UW TTGs in a different leveled course met a guy from Milwaukee (small world!) that day in their class.  He's a professor at the university where we take Korean classes (man in suit below):

Since our beloved kimbap place (at which we've only eaten once) was closed that day (due to the Chuseok holiday), after class we asked him for a restaurant recommendation near the university.  He walked us to a Shabu Shabu place close by; this would be my first time eating the dish.

Shabu shabu

So there is a bit pot with broth in the middle, cooking on fire.  They bring you a big plate of vegetables and a plate of thinly shaved meat that you add into the boiling broth yourself:

There were also rice papers (bottom right of the collage below) to make yummy spring roll-esque creations with the meat and vegetables.  Note: You must dip the rice papers in the hot broth for them to be malleable.

After eating many bowls of the soup, we added in the fresh noodles that were brought out at the beginning.  These were so delicious!  They really thicken up the soup, giving a new texture to it all.

I've been told that at most shabu shabu places you normally add rice at the end, after eating all of the noodles, but we were not given rice with whatever it was we ordered.  We were still completely stuffed, though!  I think we paid around $8.50 each for this meal.

... and then we went next door and got waffles to top it off!

And then I was off to catch my bus home, so I would have the whole day on Sunday to lesson plan for the week (le sigh...)
• • •

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chuseok - Saturday: Seoul Folk Flea Market

[Last Wednesday - Saturday I stayed in Seoul during the Chuseok holiday, Korean Thanksgiving.  The following post is about my final (fourth) day.  Here is day one, here is day two, here is day three - am, and here is day three - pm.]

When I booked our hostel, I booked four nights (Wednesday - Sunday).  I think it was Thursday night, back when I felt so terrible, that I thought about canceling my last night and going back home on Saturday night instead.  On Friday I played around with the idea some more, then went ahead and canceled it that day so I could get most of my money back.

So on Saturday morning I packed up my backpack and carried it around with me during the day so I could go straight home after class (the bus that I take home is just one metro stop from Korean class).

First we headed to the Seoul Folk Flea Market.  There was tons of stuff inside; sometimes the piles were overwhelming.  There were electronics, clothes, books, musical instruments (guitars -- yes), vitamins, probiotics, records, art, knick knacks -- almost everything you could think of.

My only purchase at the market was a pack of AA batteries, since the price was cheap.  I have never changed the batteries in my atomic alarm clock, which I purchased back in high school.  That's 7-8 years on the same two batteries!  So I wanted to be prepared for when they die.  Perhaps I bought really bad batteries that won't last long, and that's why they were so cheap.  I'll find out in good time, I guess.

There were lots of places to eat inside the flea market structure, but we went to Dongdaemun Market for a bit before Korean class and ate there.  At the Dongdaemun Market I bought a badminton racquet!  I don't think it's the greatest, but it was the lightest racquet at the stand.  I didn't know what the guy was telling me -- apart from price -- but I wanted to have my own so I bought it.


What: Seoul Folk Flea Market
Hours: 10:00 - 19:00
Closed: 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month
Metro: Sinseoldong Station (Lines 1, 2)
• • •

Chuseok - Friday pm: Cat cafe

[Last Wednesday - Saturday I stayed in Seoul during the Chuseok holiday, Korean Thanksgiving.  The following post is about the evening on day three of four.  Here is day one, here is day two, and here is day three - am.]

After a morning and afternoon of some really cool street art in Seoul last Friday, we picked up our seventh fellow UW TTG from the hostel and headed to a cat cafe.

According to wikipedia, the world's first cat cafe opened in 1998 in Taiwan.  The first cat cafe in Japan opened in 2005, and has more recently spread to South Korea.  It's basically just a cafe where you pay a cover fee to enter -- and be surrounded by cats.  It makes more sense that they're popular over here though, because apartments are small so not many people have pets.

Now I am a dog person 100%, but I went along for the experience. (I've heard that dog cafes exist here too, by the way.  Though I don't see myself going to another cat cafe, I would love to visit a dog cafe any day).

Before entering the cafe part, we took off our shoes and put on "slippers" (see photo below), which is normal considering the country we're in.

Then we had to disinfect our hands with sanitizer located near the door.  And then we entered.

When we entered, the counter was directly in front of us, as you must order a drink before you can sit down.  You have to order something because the entrance fee is included in the cost of the drink (which was 8,000 W at this place -- a little under $8).  In a way you're paying to rent the cats, or something like that.

Anyways, notice where the lady is making drinks in the photo, and what's sitting up on the counter.  (Three cats).  Yeeah.

Here's a view of the room we were in:

Most of the cats were "sleeping" or just lying down when we got in.

Before we could make it to a table, the lady from behind the counter came over and handed us all a laminated sheet of rules (in English and Korean) that we were to read and follow.  Such rules included: Don't touch the cats when they're sleeping. Don't use flash on your camera. Don't pull the cat's tail.  Don't poke your straws at the cats.  etc. etc.

Here's a picture of me pretending to like cats for a few seconds:

This past year I became hesitant to pet cats after my sister bought a crazy cat that bites and scratches (It has since become better behaved, but it's still crazy. And it still randomly scratches and bites).  So I didn't pet too many cats, and I was always shocked that they didn't attack me when I petted their heads.  I usually flinched and got ready to pull away my hand quickly regardless.

It was a strange place at the beginning.  I kept thinking to myself, "This is so bizarre".  These cats sit here all day and people pay to be in their presence.  The air in that cafe definitely smelled like 15 cats were running around inside all day, too.

These two little girls next to us quadrupled the entertainment value, though.  Most everyone else in the cafe were couples, so it was oh so fun to watch the reactions and smiles on these girls' faces.

Sometimes the cats jumped up on the tables:

Later on the father of the two little girls bought some cat treats (a strip of chicken) from the counter, making those two girls the most popular people in the room for the cats.  But then other people bought treats as well, which only made me wonder how the cats don't get overfed if this is what they do every day.  Or maybe they just do get overfed, end of story.

And then the night got interesting.

He-who-will-not-be-named showed his face.

Yup, there was a Voldemort cat.  A wrinkled pile of ugly, hairless, hideous evil.  

Warning! Warning!  Photo may cause unease!

View at your own discretion.  

Don't say I didn't warn you!

These two photos were taken by Phillip Balistriere:

Ugly hairless cat

Ugly hairless cat

Ugg, I was frightened that it would come over and jump up on me as another cat had done earlier.  Took me totally by surprise.  But the Voldemort cat jumping on me would have taken it to another level completely.  Don't worry, I stole a friend's seat when they got up to feed a cat, which moved me farther from Voldemort Cat.  I was safe.

As it got darker outside there got to be lots going on in our little cube of a cafe:

Then the lady from the behind the counter came out with a streamer and made the cats jump around after it.

We were the first to leave, of all the people inside, but it was time to get some dinner (and breathe fresh air).

I bought some chicken (on a stick) from a street vendor for a cheap, quick, and yummy dinner.  Then we all went to a restaurant where four of the seven ate a dinner of Samgyeopsal (what I had my first Saturday of Korean class, where you grill the meat yourself at your table.)  Samgyeopsal is really fatty pork belly meat that's really popular in Korea, but I'll probably try to avoid it the rest of the year.  My stomach does not like trying to digest fatty meats.  So I try to stick to grilled chicken if I'm going to eat a meat.

It was fun to go again though; this type of restaurant now feels more normal for me (even though I couldn't order in Korean if I wanted to!)

After dinner Reca bought a waffle from a nearby waffle stand.  I just pointed and nodded my head when she asked me something, no idea what she asked or what I was saying yes to.  The result?  A waffle topped with whipped cream and chocolate drizzle.  Yummm.

A happy ending to a great day!
• • •

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chuseok - Friday am: Street art and "real" pizza

[Last Wednesday - Saturday I stayed in Seoul during the Chuseok holiday, Korean Thanksgiving.  The following post is day three of four.  Here is day one and here is day two.]

On Friday morning we were joined by three more TTGs, making us a happy party of 6.  A Taiwanese girl from our hostel invited us to come along with her to see some street art that happened to be within walking distance of our hostel.  She read about it in her guide book.  I'm so glad we ran into her that morning, otherwise we would have missed out on this unknown nearby treasure.

Pictures will suffice to describe our morning that day:

Pizza in Itaewon

One of my TTG friends had had a huge pizza craving that week.  Apparently Korean pizza is not like "American" pizza, but I haven't had Korean pizza yet so I'm not sure what the difference is.  Regardless, we headed to Itaewon (an area in Seoul with many international restaurants) in search of good pizza.  And it was finally found at The Pizza Peel:

We walked around Itaewon until about 16:30, then headed back to the hostel.  It ended up being perfect timing, because our seventh TTG (and token male that weekend) had just arrived at the hostel.

We sat around in the living room and caught up for a while, then decided we should continue talking elsewhere -- out at a cat cafe!  I'll tackle that experience in my next post, but know that cat cafes are all over Seoul.  And yes, it's a cafe with cats inside.
• • •

Monday, September 23, 2013

Chuseok - Thursday: The "Ch" Palaces

[Last Wednesday - Saturday I stayed in Seoul during the Chuseok holiday, Korean Thanksgiving. The following post is day two of four.  Day one can be found here.]

Our first stop on Thursday was the Changgyeonggung Palace, which happened to be just minutes (walking) from our hostel.  To make it even better, entrance was free thanks to the holiday that day.  Double score!

Korean palaces are sure different from the European castles I saw while living in Spain.  Take a look at the entrance gate:

We were mostly walking around the grounds outside, since you couldn't enter any of the palace buildings (you could just peek through the open doors/windows).

There was a structure that reminded me of the "glass palace" in Madrid's Retiro Park, but this one was more of a greenhouse.  It was super hot inside the greenhouse, as you might imagine.  I was sweating enough outside as it was, so I just took a quick walk through the "glass palace" to see some of the plants, and then I fled out a side door:

All of our eyes were drawn to this sight (pictured below), as the contrast between ancient and modern was unavoidable:

Next we visited the Changdeokgung Palace, which was on the other side of the first palace.  Again, no admission fee.  Yay!  Here's the first main "palace".  Notice the open doors and "windows" where visitors could take a look inside.  The bottom picture is the inside of that building.

Here are a few more images from these royal grounds.  Again, below you can see visitors looking through the open windows into the palace buildings:

And one more outside/inside shot from the Changdeokgung Palace:

It was well into the afternoon at this point, so we left the palace in search of lunch.  We stumbled upon a festival while searching:

However, we were not seeing any food at this festival -- just shops and crafts and such.  It was hot and we were hungry, so we parted from this main pedestrian street to look for food on some side streets.  Guess what?  On a big national holiday, restaurants are closed!  We ended up in a touristy café, the only open place we found.  The AC and sitting was nice though.  During lunch we decided that all of us were palaced out for the day, and didn't mind if we skipped out on the third palace we had originally planned to visit.  We were exhausted from the sun/heat, all of the walking, and the lack of sleep the night before.

After lunch we headed back towards the festival, but much farther down the pedestrian street than we'd been before.  And guess what we found?  Food stands.  Lots of delicious, cheap, authentic Korean food.  Whoops.  But we were full and now sleepy.  And it was past 4 in the afternoon (I think).  So we took the metro back to our hostel and took naps.

I was woken up at 20:00, but didn't realize I had ever fallen asleep.  Guess I slept for a while!  We got up and went to a nearby market.  I felt pretty terrible -- my ill body needed more sleep and the cough drop I had before my nap upset my stomach (as they always do... but I can't sleep with a scratchy throat!).  It was a strange, strange feeling.  It felt like so much work just to stand up.  I was not hungry, but thought I should probably eat something while we were out.  We had some delicious chicken on a skewer from a street vendor for around $1.25.  It was great!  We came back to the hostel around 22:00 and I was happy to go to bed.
• • •