Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas in Korea

So, I originally had a long and somewhat self pitying post about how I was homesick, and Christmas kinda sucked, but............ I have since snapped out of it, and am back to my normal self now.  (Those of you who know me personally know I don't stay down for long.)  So, I have decided to write a much better, and less depressing post about my first Christmas in Korea.

Christmas tree on display in Changwon


Truth be told, I had a great Christmas season.   Here's a brief rundown:

Thursday: 10 days before Christmas

It was exam day at the school and I had no classes.  Later that night, I went to a movie night hosted by one of the foreigner bars in Changwon. The movies were Christmas themed and the whole event was to help raise money for an orphanage. Great cause and seemed like great fun so I went. The night proved to be quite fruitful as I met some great new people, got invited to a couple Christmas parties, and watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, a classic in my family, right Dad?

Friday: 9 days before Christmas

I spent at the local place in Masan with one of my closet friends in Korea, it was a mellow evening.  We played darts (one day I might actually win) and sat comfy in large lounge chairs talking about the world.  I called it an early night since I had Saturday camp the next day.

art on the wall 

Saturday: 8 days before Christmas

After my Saturday camp, I headed into Changwon to hit a Christmas party (also to raise money for the orphanage) at International Pub.  The night was great fun, and I met some new people (even one from Chicago) and was feeling well sorted and in the holiday spirit, even despite having my face licked (ewww) by a random man, seriously, what is wrong with people?  But overall, it was a great night, and supported a good cause.  Who can turn down Jello shots for orphans?

Jello shots for orphans?  Yes, please!

Sunday: 7 days before Christmas

Sunday I woke up feeling a bit under the weather, but choked it up to having been out the night before.  In the evening I headed back into Changwon for a fabulous Chrismas dinner hosted by O'Briens pub.  The food was off the hook amazing (seriously I am still dreaming about those ham and potatoes).  I had attended the party with a few of my Irish friends, and eventually connected with some other Irish people, so of course, the night ended in some singing some Irish tunes.  

singing some Irish tunes 

the more the merrier

Monday: 6 days before Christmas

I woke up with a sore throat. Sounds minor, right? But this was one of those sore throats that makes it hurt to even drink water. I almost called into work, but really had some things I needed to get done, so I trekked in.  Eventually I headed down to the school nurse, who had me gargle some salt water, and drink some horrible brown drink, and gave me some medicine, and started to feel a bit better.  Since it hurt to talk (horrible for me!) I went to my vice-principal who I met with once a week for English lessons, and asked if we could skip or postpone, she told me just to leave early!  So a little R&R helped me get back on my game.

That evening I was feeling much better and wound up heading back into Changwon with a friend to pick up a bag he had left the night before.  We ate dinner at Bennigan's, which was a bit odd as it is very different, but not really (if that makes sense) from the ones in the U.S.  I had the monte cristo, and am now convinced my friend thinks I'm a pig, but whatevs...fried ham and cheese sandwhich with raspberry preserves is yummy!  After that we headed to a DVD-bang (private room DVD viewing with giant TVs, and surround sound for those of you wondering) and watched The Fighter, an awesome movie by the way.

Bennigan's in Changwon

Tuesday: 5 days before Christmas

I started to feel even better from my sore throat / cold I had going on.  I pretty much just worked on lesson plans for my winter camps, and finishing an online training course.  

Wednesday: 4 days before Christmas

I again woke up not feeling well (again), my best guess at this point was just lack of sleep and not really taking care of myself.  When I arrived at my school there was a package from my mom waiting for me.  (Yay for moms!)  Oh all the little comforts of home in a little box, some of it just in the nick of time, Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing, Lawry’s seasonings & salts, Bath & Body Works hand sanitizers, my iPod dock, some cold medicines, and some EmergenC. After arriving home I unpacked the box and promptly put some of the items to good use. I was feeling renewed. I finally got around to cleaning my apartment and making my apartment tour (and yes, I’m still fighting that cold in the video.)

care package from my mommy

Thursday: 3 days before Christmas

At this point I had to decide between two options for Christmas. Stay in Changwon and go to the holiday party on Saturday night (Christmas Eve) or put my 3 day weekend to good use (I had Friday off), and go to Daegu with my 2 closest Masan friends. I eventually decided on the latter, my logic being that I wanted to be with the people I was/am closest with, as well as I was anxious to travel about Korea a bit.

It was the last day of school, and I was horribly busy all day, finishing winter camp plans, etc.  Additionally, this was the day they decided to take school photos.  I found out about it while I was making copies and a man with a camera tapped me on the shoulder.  I bet I look just awesome!!!  (Y'all they even asked if I had a passport size photo handy as an option to having them take my picture.)  I didn't wind up getting home from school until after 6 pm, very unusally late.

I had made plans to attend a birthday party that evening, and joined about 10 people for some BBQ duck dinner.  We wound up eating in a heated tent, due to the restaurant being so busy, but the tent was warm and the food good, and it turned out to be a great night.

Friday: 2 days before Christmas

I had a long awaited day off from school. I slept in, finished up some laundry, went to the store for a few provisions, and had set to get an early start for my weekend excursion to Daegu. Despite missing the fast train (KTX), the trip out to Daegu went off without a hitch. I even met Santa or a rather poor imitation of him anyways.

Korean Santa

Masan station 

 leaving Masan

headed to Daegu 

Korean countryside

Friday night we headed to Yeongcheon, where one of my friends worked last year, to meet up with some of his good friends. I was a bit worried about being a tag-a-long, but everyone was welcoming and we had a great night, with some amazing chicken and good conversation.

Christmas Eve 

Saturday we got a slow start to the morning, and then caught yet another train from Yeongcheon to Daegu.

on the train from Yeongcheon to Daegu


 some Christmas-y donuts at Dunkin Doughnuts in the Daegu train station

The plan for Daegu was to meet up with some more foreigners and attend a pot luck style Christmas dinner and head out to a 12 bars of Christmas style of pub crawl. I felt this would be the perfect plan.

Shortly after our arrival in Daegu, we stopped off at the store to get some cooked chickens to take to the pot luck. By the time we arrived at our other friend’s apartment, chicken in tow, I was absolutely starving. I hadn’t eaten a thing at this point. We decided to eat one of the chickens we had purchased for a late lunch. The striking resemblance to the duck in A Christmas Story had me chuckling and thinking of home.

"Fra ra ra ra raaaaa ra ra ra rah" 

 how many guys does it take to iron a shirt?

getting ready for the evening

After just chilling for a bit we headed out to the dinner party. The pot luck was a huge success and kudos for the expats who held it. That portion of the evening went as follows…. “OMG SALSA! I love salsa…I miss salsa.” “OMG deviled eggs! I love deviled eggs…I miss deviled eggs.” Repeat the aforementioned sentences using green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, baked potatoes, macaroni and cheese, salad, and those no-bake-chocolatey-peanut-buttery-oatmeal-cookie-things.

so much delicious food 

oh ya, we killed that pretty well

However, during the dinner, I began to get a bit sad that a) I have only met 2 of these people prior to the evening and b) that I am missing this sort of bonding going on in Changwon, where it is guaranteed that I’ll see the people again. Don't get me wrong, everyone was super nice and it was an awesome time.  I just wish I could've gone to both parties!

"carving" the chicken

Americans :) 

food, friends, and wine 

how many foreigners can you fit into a Korean apartment? 

The Irish boys 

my closest friends in SoKo

and what is dinner, without a little music

 crazy and sweet

It was about at this point a newly engaged couple showed up. He had JUST proposed to her (and via flash mob which is totally awesome by the way). Everyone at the party was so excited for them and wanted to hear all the details. Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy for them and probably would have gotten misty eyed if I had seen a video of the proposal on the internet, but alas I didn't really know these people, so I took this as my cue to leave and go meet up with another friend from Masan who also happened to be in Daegu for the weekend.

Shortly after meeting up with my friend and some of his other friends, some Koreans next to us tried to pick a fight with us (not me specifically - I was in my own little world).  Over a dart board of all things.  I'm not sure what actually set off the whole thing but there was a lot of swearing in Korean at us.  I presume they think we didn't understand the words (additionally, there were a few Koreans with us as well).  It was all very strange.  We had already decided to leave and not get into it with the other group.  

By this time in the evening, there were at least 3 different groups of people all about in the downtown Daegu area that I (we) were supposed to meet up with.  I went to eat with the group I was currently with, and found out where the others were going to be.  On the way back from dinner I stopped at an ATM to pull cash out for the evening.  And eventually we all headed out in downtown.  The people I had met the previous night in Yeongchun the previous night were already out and some of my group had already met up with them, so we joined as well.

The bar we were at had apparently not only heard of heat, they had it going full blast.  After wearing a coat and the heaviest sweaters I own for at least a month straight, I was thrilled to unlayer and thrilled to dance.  We were having a great time.  Then it hit me, full on, how much I was missing my friends at home.  One of my sayings is that you can never go back to the home you left.  People change, places change, and I guess it was all this running through my head that had me going...and I began to get upset.  I can't tell you the exact moment that triggered it, but I got sad, and fast.

I'll spare you the hot mess of the details, long story short.  I cried.  It was one of those crys that means nothing and everything.  Where then everything else just triggers more crying.  And somehow in the middle of all this, I set my purse down....somewhere.  I have no idea when or where, maybe it was stolen?  Regardless, I realized that it was missing as we arrived at a norebang (private room karaoke for those of you back home).  And that was the final straw, that triggered the sneaky hate spiral.  (click the link for Hyperbole and a Half's perfect description of how this actually works.)

I can't even remember the last time I've lost anything.  I've even been teased at how closely I watch my purse before.  Regardless, I run back to the bar to see if it is there, to no avail.  I run back to the norebang.  I look in bathrooms and under seats and it is just gone.  I have no idea how I managed to even navigate my way around to re-locate these places.

My friends, who I am sure have no idea what to do with me, did a grand job of calming me down.  Karaoke...it soothes the soul, for a bit anyways.  One of the Koreans with us helped me call my bank to cancel my check card, and even though we couldn't get it sorted, I was thankful to have so many people there for me.  (Apparently, I got bitchy, yet witty during this time as well...oh my poor new friends, people usually know me for more than a minute before something like this happens!)

Eventually we all headed back to apartments all over the city to get some sleep.  I was spent.

Christmas Day

I wake up, still with no purse, no wallet, and no success in canceling my bank card.  They needed my alien number and unfortunately my alien card was lost as well.  However, a seperate but related issue is that my bank had my alien number listed incorrectly.  Therefore, I couldn't freeze my account.

So, here I am in Daegu - an hour and a half train ride, plus another taxi or bus ride home.  With no money, no wallet, and no way to know if someone had used my card.  I called my co-teachers, neither of them had my fake alien number listed with the bank, but one did all she could to talk with the bank for me.  I had to decide if I wanted to stay in Daegu and go search for my purse (I was still holding out hope at this point, that it'd just been left in the bar) or jump on the first train back to Masan.  I chose the latter.  Opting instead to have my friends go check for my purse later that evening.  Side note:  my (favorite) co-teacher is absolutely amazing, she takes good care of me and was great through this whole process.

My friend loaned me some money to get home, and I caught a cab to the train station, where I lucked out as the next train was leaving in about 15 minutes.  So after a quick stop in the phramacy for some headache meds, I was on my way home.

The journey was unsettling at best, and I felt like it took about 12 times longer than on the way there.  What a way to spend Christmas, amirite?  (I even got in trouble for being too loud on the train when I answered a phone call - I mean I was barely whispering I swear and this after sitting next to a woman taking photo after photo of herself with her cell phone, and also talking on her phone, much louder than me I might add.)

Once I got home, I grabbed my bank book (which in Korea can also be used as an ATM card) and headed to the bank, where I yanked all of my money out as I still had not been able to cancel my account.  Now, in the U.S.  you have a limit on how much you can yank out, that is not so here in Korea (or maybe I just need to adjust some account settings?)  Regardless, when I pulled the money out of the ATM, all the money was distributed in 10,000 won increments.  So when you are pulling out cash in the millions of won, the ATM sounds as if it is about to launch into space....way to be stealthy Korea.  This garnered a few looks from the other people in the area.  Being hyper-paranoid at this point, I suspiciously lurked about the bank lobby for everyone to leave, and then headed home.

Glad it wound up in my hands, and not someone else's

I finally felt more calm with my money in hand.  I spoke with my co-teacher and we decided to sort the bank situation the next day.  I finally relaxed and watched a bit of A Christmas Story, the movie was perfectly fitting.  Christmas was over, I was starting winter camps the next day, so I headed to bed.

After all, its not really Christmas if you don't have a little bit of misery.


Hugs & Kisses,
Liz

P.S. Don't you kids worry about me, money is back in the bank and new alien registration card (ARC) is on the way.  I'm back to my old self again.

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