Thanksgiving Abroad

Hello everyone!  How are you all doing?  I hope you’re staying warm with all the cold weather!

Did you guys have a good Thanksgiving?  What all did you eat?  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so I was interested to see how I could swing a totally American holiday overseas.

Thanksgiving day itself was like any other day, except I missed my family a lot and ended up skyping with my mom and dad four times over 36 hours.  My cousin, who is a teacher here, and with whom I spent every single Thanksgiving with since we were born, was busy on Thursday teaching so we had to hold off our celebration until the weekend.

Come to find out, there are actually a lot of events held all over the city for Thanksgiving for expats, although they are really expensive.  Some dinners even cost over $300! You can also find dinners that are less expensive in Itaewon, the foreigner area of Seoul, which can be a little on the sketchy side.  It’s also really far away from both of our houses, so we both decided to celebrate on Saturday.

Saturday morning we set out to go to an art exhibit and then to do a little shopping for our families for the holidays, and to sort of replicate black Friday shopping.  We went to a pretty cool place in Seoul called Insadong, where there are a ton of little shops selling replicas of tradition Korean items and souvenirs.   While there, we also saw a traditional drum performance, but the people playing the drums were dressing in animal footie pajamas!  It was so cool!

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Then we headed to a big store, similar to Fred Meyer back at home.  They have everything there it seems!  For dinner we decided on fried chicken, since my cousin (and most people in Seoul) doesn’t have an oven, just a gas stove with two burners, so we couldn’t bake anything.  Turkey is also very hard to find in Korea, and if you can find it, it’s very expensive, so stove top chicken was the way to go.

Once we returned to my cousin’s apartment, we got to work!  Together we made the chicken, chicken gravy, cheese sauce, rice, and broccoli.  This was very similar to what we eat at home with our families, just without my dad’s mashed potatoes and her dads stuffing.  I absolutely love cooking, so I was very happy to be in the kitchen again.

Cooking!  The pic is a little blurry since I was trying to take it before the chicken burned!

Cooking! The pic is a little blurry since I was trying to take it before the chicken burned!

from left to right, top to bottom:  Chicken and cheese sauce prep Gravy Our finished meal My cousin and all of our hard work, featuring a very messy  mini kitchen in the background

from left to right, top to bottom:
Chicken and cheese sauce prep
Gravy
Our finished meal
My cousin and all of our hard work, featuring a very messy mini kitchen in the background

We ate until we were stuffed, and then took a traditional Thanksgiving nap.  Once we woke up we headed out for some dessert, and found a cute little coffee shop that served hot cocoa and a Korean dessert called toast, which is a think piece of bread with sweet goodies on top.  Ours had honey, caramel, chocolate, and whipped cream.  Oh man it was so delicious!

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All in all it was a fun experience, but left me wondering a few things.  I know from my Korean friends here that having a full sized kitchen is very rare, and the norm is to have just a stove.  It leaves me to wonder how normal everyday families cook, especially for a lot of people.  How do holidays work with the kitchen, or are Koreans more likely to go out and eat for special occasions?  Cooking in Korea was a great experience and I hope to try it again soon!

Do you guys like to cook?  What is your favorite holiday meal?

Age and Friendship in Korea

Hello everyone!

How is school going for you all?  Is it getting close to winter break for you guys too?

This week, I got another lesson in building friendships in Korea.  Honestly, finding and making friends has been not only difficult, but a huge culture shock for me.  In America, most of my friends are either male and/or older than me, which seems to be pretty rare here.

First of all, it should be noted that age is calculated differently in Korea.  When you are born, you are a year old, and then on New Year’s day, you are another year old.  For example, I was born in November 1990, therefore, in America, I just turned 24 years old.  However, here, I am 25, and have been all year since New Year’s day.  All of my friends who were born in 1990 are also 25 and have been all year as well.  Here is a video on how to calculate your Korean age:

A lot of the time in America, it seems, age is viewed as just a number.  It’s considered a little rude to ask someone how old they are, especially when you first meet someone.  Here, however, “몇 살이에요?” (meyeot sal ee aeyo?), or “What is your age?” is one of the very first things you ask someone.  Once you find out someone’s age, you know how to address and act around them.

With someone who is older than you, you need to use the respectful form Korean, with most sentences ending in 요 (yo) or 니다 (ni da).  This raises the listener to a higher position in the conversation.  You also use 저 (jeo) or 제 (jae) when referring to yourself to bring your position in the conversation to a lower level.  Once you are comfortable with the person, depending on your gender and theirs, you can call them big brother or big sister.  If you are a girl, you say 오빠(oppa) and  언니(eonnie), and guys use 형(hyung) and 누나(noona) respectively.

When you meet someone who is younger than you, once you are close to them you can drop formal endings.  As the older person in the friendship, it is up to you to decide when the two of you are close, and can tell the other person by telling them it’s okay to speak comfortably.  At this point they will start to use the terms mentioned above, only to you instead.  Some people don’t like being called big brother or sister, since it draws attention to how old they are, however, I have to say, I love being called언니 and누나!  It makes me feel closer to the person and more protective of them.  I wonder if this will change as I get older.

My first really big shock, however, came when I first met someone my age.  After exchanging our ages, and confirming with our birth year, he reached out to shake hands and exclaimed “Hey!  We’re friends!”  At first I was quite taken back.  How can we be friends if we just met?  What he really meant was “since we are the same age, we can be comfortable with each other and not have to worry about formalities as much.”  This actually ends up being really nice, since when I’m talking to someone my own age, I can just focus on building a friendship, rather than trying to remember if I am using the right honorifics or not.

Here are a couple websites that go into a little more depth about what I talked about today.

http://seoulistic.com/korean-culture/what-it-means-to-be-oppa-unnie-hyung-noona-older-in-korea/

http://seoulistic.com/korean-culture/korean-age-system-youre-older-in-korea/

http://www.eatyourkimchi.com/age-differences-in-korea/

This was just a basic overview; there is so much more to age and friendship in Korea that I don’t know yet!  However, if you come to Korea, this basic info is good to know!

What do you guys think of the Korea way versus the Western way when making friends?  Do you guys know of how people make friends in other countries?

I know this topic is perhaps a bit dull, so to make up for it I will be posting a extra picture post this week!  Hope you guys are doing well!  Have a great week!

Pictures: Seoul Light Festival

Ribbet collage

This week I went to the Seoul Light Festival at the Cheonggyecheon River that flows through the middle of the city.  Giant lights and figures are placed in the middle of the water on stilts and crowds wander up and down the banks looking at them.  It was pretty cool, but really crowded, even though we went on a weekday!  Here’s a video of one of the sets, which was of a traditional classroom, with traditional music playing in the background:

Have a good weekend!

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Pictures: Raw Beef?

I had a conversation with one of my good friends, who was an exchange student from Korea, before I left the US, telling her that I will try anything once while in Korea.  This week, I held up that promise by eating 육회 (yook hwei), or raw beef over fresh pears and topped with a raw egg yolk and sesame oil.  After mixing it all together, you take each bite and dip it in a mixture of more sesame oil and salt.  I was really apprehensive at first, as I was worried about getting sick or not liking it.  But I remembered the promise I made to myself and thought about all the delicious foods I had been afraid to try and ended up liking, like pigs feet and mushrooms.

Lo and behold, it was absolutely delicious!  It was so tasty and the texture was the perfect mix of chewy and smooth.  I would definitely eat it again!

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Pictures: Is it Summer, or Winter?

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Based on this picture, would you say it’s summer, or winter?  It looks like a nice warm day, right?  I wish that was the truth.

My Oregonian brain has been so confused lately!  Almost every morning for the past two weeks I’ve looked outside and have seen bright blue skies with not a cloud in sight, and a ton of sunshine.  Yet, the second I walk out my door, I’m hit with a cold wind that blasts its way through even my heaviest coat.

Thankfully, this week has been a little warmer, but I’ve heard that it will get very cold within the next month or so, and can get as cold as zero degrees Fahrenheit!  I’m not quite sure if I’m ready for it yet.  But for now, I’ll enjoy the beautiful view from comfort of a nice warm building as much as possible!

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Korean Homecoming and Games

Hello everyone!

I heard you got a little bit of snow there this week!  Did your school close?  I hope you all stayed safe and warm during the storm.

At your school, do you guys have homecoming?  I have good memories from my own homecoming days back in the states.  I loved getting dressed up with my friends, dancing, and eating at sharis late at night!  This weekend, I got to experience a Korean style homecoming with the club I joined!

Homecoming here is very different from the states.  It’s not a school wide event, and there’s no dancing or dressing up.  We played a lot of games, and then went out for dinner.  A ton of people who have graduated came back to play and eat with us.

We all went down to a park and split into two teams and warmed up before the guys started playing basketball.  All the girls were invited to play as well, but since it was so cold and I am not very athletic, I decided to hang back with the other girls on the sidelines.  It was really fun to cheer the guys on, and the other girls taught me a few phrases to yell while they played like “멋있어!” (meoshiseo, or handsome) and “잘 한다!” (jal handa, or good job).  Here is a video of my team scoring the first point of the game:

After that, we played a traditional game similar to hacky sack.  Four girls and two guys from each team took turns kicking the 제기 (jaegi) and then the team that scored the most points won.  I was able to kick it only twice, but a few of my friends were able to over ten times!  It was super cool, regardless of which team they were on.

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Then, we played a version of dodge ball.  In this version, three girls and three guys on each side, and they were paired off, each guy with a girl.  It is the guys job to protect the girl, as the couple could only get out if the girl was hit with the ball.  The players not playing inside the court stood outside the court on the opponent’s side, and tried to hit the girls from the outside.  The guy I ended up paired with was very agressive, and I was pretty good at dodging and hiding behind him, so we won for our team!

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The last game was kickball, but in Korean it translates directly to foot baseball, which I think I like better!  We made a court out of the basketball court and played while the sunset, and it started to get really cold.

I’m not sure who won, but it didn’t really matter.  It was a lot of fun getting to know the graduates, and hanging out with a bunch of the club members.

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Birthdays in Korea

Hi everyone!  How are you doing?  Is school going well?

This Tuesday is my birthday, and I will be 24!.  This is my first time celebrating my birthday away from my family and friends back home, so I’m a little sad, but I’m excited to experience it in Korea!   I wasn’t quite sure how birthdays are celebrated here, so I did some research so we could find out together!

In western culture, the “big” birthdays are typically thought of at the 1st, 16th, 18th, 21st, and 40th birthdays, at least in my mind.  In Korea however, the 100th day, 1st, and 70th birthdays grant the biggest celebration.

The 100th day, or baek-il, celebration is a very big occasion, since, in the olden days, many children died within their first 100 days.  Even though infant death rates have dropped since then, it is still a very special occasion.  It is believed that if the child’s family shares rice cakes with 100 people, the child will live a long life.  The dishes the rice cakes are sent in are then sent back to the family containing long lengths of thread to signify a long life, and/or rice and money, which signifies future wealth.  The 100 day celebration has moved over to other parts of Korean culture as well, with couples celebrating their 100th day as a couple instead of the 1 month anniversary.

The most well-known (and in my opinion, the most adorable!) birthday celebrations is called dol, or the first birthday celebration.  The baby gets dressed in a dol-bok, similar to the hanbok I wrote about last week, based on the sex of the child.  A huge table is filled with many different kinds of rice cakes, fruits, and rice.  The table is also set with a few different items to find out what kind of future the child will have.  The baby is places in front of the items and whichever item he or she picks up first supposedly tells their future!  Traditionally, there is a spool of thread, a brush,  calligraphy set, pencil, a book, money, and a bow and arrow for the child to choose from.  However, these days, parents often set items pertaining to what they want their child to do for a job, such as a microphone, baseball, stethoscope, etc.  Parents often try to guide their children to what they want them to be, and family members make bets on what the children will choose!  Here is a video of the festivities:

The 70th birthday is called Hwangap.  Originally, this was celebrated on your 60th birthday, since at that point, you complete the sexagenarian cycle of the Korean zodiac, and since, aging, life was hard in the olden days, and people rarely lived to see their 60th birthday.  Nowadays, since people are living a lot longer, this is celebrated on the person’s 70th birthday.  The children of the person prepare a huge feast, and they bow (as seen in last weeks post) and offer wine to their parents.  To keep the party young and exciting, everyone dresses in children’s clothing and sing children’s songs and play games they played as kids.

For someone celebrating a birthday that isn’t one of these, it’s still pretty exciting, but quite similar to western culture.  Today, since she won’t be teaching our class tomorrow, my Korean teacher prepared a cake made out of a popular Korean snack called Oh Yes-eu!  My classmates sung the Korean version of happy birthday to me as well, and it was a lot of fun!  I was very surprised!

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I’m so thankful for them making me feel loved at a time when I was missing my family the most.  I have met a lot of great people here, and am so excited to see where the next year takes me!

When is your birthday?  What do you usually do for your birthday?  What birthdays are the biggest for you?  Which birthday are you looking forward to in the future?

Holiday Traditions

Happy Monday everyone!  Did you have a good weekend?

With Halloween over, I am officially in the winter holiday mode.  The weather here is starting to get really cold very quickly, and it’s making me a little homesick.  I love fall in the Pacific Northwest, especially the time I get to spend with my family participating in our traditional activities of the season, like roasting pumpkin seeds, cooking Thanksgiving dinner together, and watching Christmas Vacation at least once.  So, I thought, what a better time than when I’m longing for the traditions I’m accustomed to to learn about the holiday traditions of Korea!

There are two major holidays here, 추석(Chuseok) and설날 (Seollal), with a bunch of small holidays throughout the year as well.  It seems that about once a month there is a day off from school and work (for some).  In fact, last month there were two:  National Foundation Day on the 3rd and Hangul Day on the 9th.   Most holidays are based on the Lunar calendar, so the dates on the Roman calendar change every year.

Chuseok, or the Mid-Autumn Festival, is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Lunar calendar, which, this year, fell on September 8th.  However, it is usually celebrated over the course of three to four days.  It is often compared to the American Thanksgiving, as well as other harvest festivals from around the world.  Families travel back to their hometowns to be with Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, cousins, etc.

Ancestral Rites and offering table (http://koreabridge.net/post/celebrating-chuseok-mandu)

Over the Chuseok holiday, many rituals are performed.  In the morning, everyone gathers in the home of either a grandparent or the eldest son’s house to hold a memorial service for their ancestors, thanking them for the harvest.  A table is set offering foods such as uncooked rice, alcohol, and songpyeon (rice cakes with fillings suchs as red beans, chestnuts, sesame seeds, etc.).  Many also visit their ancestors graves and to clean and rid them of the weeds that have grown over the summer.  Some people also dress up in Hanboks, traditional Korean clothing that are usually brightly colored.

There are a ton of games that are played by children and adults alike.  I got to play a version of Yut, a board game, a few weeks ago with some friends, and it was a lot of fun!  You throw four sticks, each with a round side and a flat side, and depending on how they land, you get to move a certain amount of spaces on the board.  Another cool game that is played is called Ssireum, or Korean wrestling.  Two people stand in a sand pit and face off to see who can pin the other on the ground on their back.  It’s a lot of fun to watch!  Here is a clip from the Korean reality show Running Man (although, for, I assume, entertainment purposes, they are playing in a mud pond).

Seollal is very similar to Chuseok on the surface, but is celebrated on the Lunar New Year, which in 2015 will be on February 19th.  One of the big differences between the two is the food!  Fresh meat, fruit, and wild herbs are prepared as an offering, and a traditional meal of tteokguk is prepared.  Tteokguk is a beef soup with rice cakes, and once you finish your bowl, you are considered another year older!  The rice cakes symbolize purity (from the bright white color of the rice cake) and longevity (from the long length of the rice cake before it’s cut).  Younger generations then perform a deep bow, or sebae, to the elders, and offer gifts in exchange for blessings in the new year, as well as money.

My family is Chinese, so we celebrate Lunar New Year as well, however usually with just a large family dinner.  I am a little sad I won’t be able to spend this year in the kitchen with my mom, but I’m excited to experience it here with a different culture.  Do any of you celebrate Lunar New Year too?  What is your favorite holiday and/or tradition that you or your family celebrate?

Happy November!  Stay warm and healthy!

Learn more:

http://asiaenglish.visitkorea.or.kr/ena/AK/AK_EN_1_5_2.jsp

http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/south-korea/

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_6.jsp?cid=941952

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_6.jsp?cid=811650

Pictures: Hongdae

Happy weekend everyone!  If you celebrate Halloween, did you have fun?  How was you week?

On Friday night, my cousin and I decided to check out Hongdae, an area of Seoul near Hongik University.  It reminded me a lot of Portland!  It’s an artsy district, with a lot of people busking on the street and a ton of artwork all over the place.  There are a ton of shops and a lot of delicious restaurants and street food vendors.  We had such a great time walking around and taking in the sights that I almost forgot to take some pictures!

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Have a great weekend everyone!  Happy November!

Fall

Hey guys!  How was your weekend?  I heard that it was very stormy there the past few days.  Did you all weather the storm okay?

Here, it has been really nice, and I can see why a lot of my Korean friends call fall their favorite season.  With temperatures in the low to mid 70s and quite a bit of sunshine (at least, compared to Oregon), it has been hard to stay inside and focus on anything!  So, this week I made a lot of time to get out of my dorm, enjoy the weather, and do a little sightseeing.  I ended up going to three parks to search out those beautiful changing leaves.

I first went to Olympic Park, an area where a lot of the events of the 1988 Olympics were held.  The area is now a large paark, and the buildings are frequently used as concert venues and exhibition halls.  There are also many museums spread throughout the park, as well as art exhibits located in the open field areas.  A lake is also located in the park, and is a popular place for couples to go on dates.

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While I was there, a traditional performance was being help lakeside on an outdoor stage.  Traditional songs, dances, and plays were performed, as well as a drum performance, with a lot of people around to watch.  The small children seemed to like it the most (and especially the drums) and ran to the front to dance along!

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Unfortunately, fall is really short here, so my timing was a little off to see the golden leaves.  I was afraid I would miss the changing of the leaves, but I think I was a little early since a lot of the trees were still really green.  However, the lake and park was still really beautiful!

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Then, this weekend, my cousin (who, I think I forgot to mention in my last post, is an English teacher here!) and I went to the Korean Forest Research Institute, since I had read that it is one of the most beautiful parks in the fall.  Again, the leaves were not what I expected, but the park was still really beautiful!  It was also not very crowded, which is something I have learned to love after two months in the big city.

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We were really hungry after trekking all over the park, so we wandered down a side street nearby to look for a restaurant, and ended up finding another park full of colorful leaves!  We ate at a restaurant next to it and then headed inside.  The park was actually a burial site for a few members of the royal family of the Josen dynasty as well.

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My cousin and I were both very glad to find a place that reminded us a little of home.  We both love fall,  but it hasn’t totally felt like fall yet to either of us.

What is your favorite season?  What kind of fall activities do you enjoy?

What would you guys like to see me do next?  What are you guys learning about in class now?

I hope you guys have a fabulous week!