Saturday, August 4, 2007

First Korean Dinner, First Korean Beer!

I assume you're all dying to hear more about the school and the apartment, but I'm going to hold off until we've got our internet access up and running so I can post some pics. Rest assured that the apartment is very large, very nice, and very Korean (we needed the dictionary just to unlock the door), and the neighborhood is great--lots of food, and no fewer than two giant "marts" (kind of a cross between a market, a small mall, and a Wal-Mart) a five-minute walk away.

So last night, after work, Nana and I had our first solo (if that's the right word) Korean dinner experience, with a colleague/neighbor named Josh. (By "solo," I mean without an interpreter--so far we've been leaning heavily on the indefatigable Paul, who's lived here for five years.) Paul picked the restaurant for us ahead of time--by the time honored method of leaning out the bus window and taking a whiff--but after that, we were on our own.

The restaurant was a Korean BBQ (on the first floor of our building, no less), similar to KBBQs we'd been to in DC, and therefore a pretty safe bet. With the aid of a picture menu, 22,000 won (convienently, about $22) got us a big plate of five different meats, lettuce for wrapping, onions, two kimchis (spicy pickled cabbage side dishes), and a cole slaw salad. The meat was excellent, and the table grill was especially good, with the gas burner augmented by some aromatic woods.

3,000 won more got us two big domestic beers (each about 22oz), one of which (Hite) was a very good, fairly sweet kolsch-style lager, and one of which (Cass) was pretty bland. But finding the Koreans capable of decent, cheap beer has certainly raised my spirits, so to speak. Can't wait to do the Korean fried chicken and beer!

In any event, the proximity of at least one very good, very cheap restaurant (Nana and I could have easily split one of the 5,000-8,000 won single-meat plates) doesn't bode well for our kitchen . . . given the grocery prices I've seen so far, there's no way we could spend much less than 5,000-8,000 won cooking on our own!

Friday, August 3, 2007

In Memoriam: Dr. Homer Hulbert

It figures that my first post would be from Korea, where all the directions are written in Korean on a computer with a Korean interface. So yeah, honestly, I have no idea what I'm doing.

Today we went to a memorial service for a man named Dr. Homer Hulbert, and if I were smarter at this, I'd link his name to a web site but I'll have to do this some other time. Essentially, he was an American who served in Korea as a missionary at the turn of the century and ended up the most revered Westerner in Korean history. Dr. Hulbert (1870-sthg. to 1949) was the first person to translate much Korean literature into English, and he also served as a fierce advocate for Korean independence during the era of Japanese colonization. He's the official inspiration for our school. Today's event marked the 58th anniversary of his death.

And I just want to say that if I ever become a national hero, I would like it to be in Korea. This was a tremendously nice ceremony, although it is still extremely hot and humid here. I have to agree with the one English-language speaker, who said that as much we would have liked Dr. Hulbert to remain with us indefinitely, it would have been especially nice if he could have held on another couple of months.

In addition to the speeches in Korean and English, there was a plaque presentation, a flower-placement ceremony in front of a picture of Dr. Hulbert, and music performed by the quite-excellent Seoul Police Band. Selections included the most popular Korean folk song, Arirang, which Dr. Hulbert was the first to transcribe, and the American and Korean national anthems (Justin describes the Korean national anthem as "Schumannesque"). And it wasn't even a particularly prominent anniversary - if they do this for the 58th, I can't imagine what they'll do for the 60th.

The hosts - the Hulbert Memorial Association (or perhaps Trust) - flew in Dr. Hulbert's 80-something granddaughter and great-grandson and my little history major heart sang with joy when they donated some of his papers to the Hulbert Memorial Association here in Korea. Nothing beats keeping sources accessible to researchers. Among the papers were a letter from the emperor asking Dr. Hulbert to watch out for his nephew ("to treat him as [his] own son"), who was studying abroad in the US, a photograph of the Hulbert family in front of a Korean screen, and the letter in which Dr. Hulbert wrote that he would rather be buried in Korea than Westminster Abbey. Personally, I was leaning towards the Taj Mahal, but Dr. Hulbert had one thing right: when you're a national hero, Korea is certainly a very nice place to be dead.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A Safe Arrival!

Well! Not much time for a post now--we're on a brief pause in our orientation activities (most of which involve eating copiously), so I thought I would sit down at one of our new computers and let anyone out there who's wondering know that Nana and I have arrived safely in Seoul.

More to come shortly--probably in a few days, when our internet connection is up and running in our apartment . . . which is garishly huge. (Especially compared to last year's DC shoebox.) For now, there's much jet lag to overcome, and much shopping to do.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

So here goes . . .

There must be something else to do, right? Another undershirt to pack, another credit card company to wrangle, another CD to rip. But the bills are paid, the itineraries printed, the bags packed. (Mostly.) We've got a Ziploc full of toothpaste and lotion. We've got Pop-Tarts. We've got two books each. We've got drugs.

I remember this exact feeling from right before the wedding earlier this month. Nana can concur. It's like this huge thing that was something you've been going to do for a really long time is suddenly real. I mean, tomorrow (or Wednesday, actually--if the Good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise) we'll be standing in the immigration line at Incheon. We'll ride in a Korean taxi to an apartment whose address we'll only just have learned. We'll probably fight with a few customer service reps over lost luggage. We'll eat dinner. If we're lucky, before midnight, we'll go to sleep.

And a few weeks from now, we'll be teaching a bunch of kids we've never met, but who've suddenly become just about the most important people in our lives (at least until quitting time). We'll have visited a Korean doctor. We'll have opened a checking account at a Korean bank. And eventually, we'll start to feel normal--or as normal as two people like us can feel, at least. Live octopus will be a little less shocking. Learning curves won't feel quite as steep.

But for now, there's only all the usual emotions--a little fear, a little excitement, a lot of exhaustion, an occasional dash of frustrated rage. (The earpiece of my glasses randomly exploded last night. Seriously. That's just what I need!) I'd say I know I won't get to sleep tonight, but that's a lie. Though Nana won't, I'm sure.

And in the meantime, I've been ingesting every calorie of American food in sight, knowing that it'll be Christmas before I can get a decent burger for less than 12 bucks. For the record, our last dinner in the states will be Boston Chicken. Right now. Yum.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Federal Pound-Me-Into-Ash Prison

After an impromptu viewing of Office Space last night (yes, we're still in Ohio, biding our time, trying not to tear each other apart over all this packing), I hereby nominate that all future pop-culture cliches should be gleaned from clumsily-dubbed cable TV.

In other news, Nana deserves at least, like, a dozen Nobel Prizes for Unfathomable Patience for not throwing me out the window this week. Yet.