Sunday, March 15, 2015

Seoul Long, Farewell.

Today marked the end of the week-long trip to Seoul. As I boarded the plane to head home, I felt sad to be leaving. I felt sad that I was leaving a place where everyone was so nice and that it was home to so much traditional yet modern lifestyles. Because I went to Marymount where the student body is composed of various nationalities and that I've been abroad various times, I felt like I've seen it all. Nope, not even close. There were so many things in Seoul ranging from behavior to devices in the subway and restaurants that were so intriguing to me.

The first thing that caught me off guard was the lack of trashcans on the streets. I wrote earlier about how I was going to make it my mission to find out how the city is so clean without trashcans. Chaperone and Seoul native Sarah Kim informed me that it was a movement by the government to save money and that they believed it is the citizens' responsibilities to take care of their own trash.

Next, the buzzers in the restaurants were mind boggling. To get served, one pushes a button like a doorbell (or ring a bell in some places) to summon the wait staff. In America the wait staff comes by every ten minutes or so. I found it refreshing to have the "staff bells" because it allowed me to be in a conversation without being interrupted and gave a sense of privacy. When I first discovered the bells last Sunday, I thought it was only to be found in that restaurant but I soon discovered that it was common.

Speaking of restaurants, I had an interesting experience with food. I was told in advance about raw seafood. And by raw I mean that its still alive. Evelyn, Vince, and I ventured into an octopus restaurant after meeting with North Korean refugees. Let's just say that I learned how fresh the octopus was cooked. (See the video below) When the octopus was cooking, the three of us giggled uncontrollably. Everyone at the other tables were acting so casual about their octopuses drowning in front of them. Even as a girl that was born and raised in West Virginia where it is common to go to a barbecue where the hamburger patties or chicken on the grill were from the host's farm, this was a new level of "oh my god, I just ate something that attacked my chop sticks a minute ago." Vince ate the head and both he and Evelyn tried the ink.  When they sampled the ink, all I could think about was the scene from "Finding Nemo" where the octopus goes "awww, you guys made me ink." It's safe to say that we stepped out of our comfort zones. Oh and despite what Evelyn says, I swear the octopus was moving inside of me all night.

My long blonde locks gained attention no matter where I went. My hair also gained attention in Turkey where two people asked for photos and played with it so I thought that was as big as it was going to get. Nope. Not even close. While in Seoul, five people grabbed me to take photos, an older gentleman saluted me (not sure if that was because of my hair but I will go with it), and a stranger followed me around with a light when I was taking selfies in the dark. Friday night I went out with a group of locals Evelyn befriended at Korea University. One of the nice gentlemen named Jae Song asked me for a photo  because natural looking blondes are rare in Korea.

Maybe it was because I watched one too many romantic comedies on the plane ride over but Seoul is definitely for lovers. Towards the end of the trip the tour guide stated that back when she was a youth it was not appropriate for couples to display affection of any kind in public. But things obviously have changed since her time. Every few seconds throughout the trip I spotted a couple embracing one another. Whether they were walking arm in arm, kissing on the metro's escalator, or even just embracing one another, the guys weren't shy about hiding their feelings like the guys in the United States. The guys seemed captivated with their dates and some even engaged in matching outfits with their significant other. I joked with a few friends that all of the couples were too cute and were too into one another that I could see floating hearts around their heads.

Ever since I posted back in the fall that I was going to Korea, people on Facebook responded with phrases such as "why?" and "be safe!" Throughout the trip, countless people spammed my Facebook posts telling me to be safe and insinuating that I was going to be kidnapped or killed the moment I stepped outside of my hotel. Reflecting back on this I take this as offensive. Not offensive towards my capabilities of being able to defend myself as a girl from a possible attack but offensive towards the fact that Seoul is safer than majority of the United States. Never have I traveled to a place that had such wonderfully nice and polite people like those found in Korea. I didn't feel at any single moment that I was in danger, which is a huge deal for me since I'm scared by my own shadow. Now whenever someone repeats those phrases in reference to Korea, I want to show them the statistics and introduce them to Koreans so they know how safe and wonderful the country is.

The culture of South Korea was intriguing overall.  Tuesday when the group was at Korea University, Evelyn and Karen befriended the student photographer named Seong-ju. He invited the two girls out to explore Seoul with him and his three friends. I was privileged to tag along. We spent the night going from restaurant to karaoke bar to Irish pub to another restaurant before going back around 4am. But the time flew by because of the great company (and singing from Basil).

 The guys were intrigued with my hair and after sending photos of it to friends, we began comparing our two countries. The guys were surprised that in the United States our wait staff comes to the customers on their own instead of, like in Korea, the customers summoning their services. Another topic that the guys were curious about was racism and diversity in the United States. I told them how in the United States every ethnic group can be found and, for the most part, we all got along. One guy in particular was impressed that I had friends who were from every ethnic group possible.

We went from the restaurant to a karaoke place where a person can rent a room to hang out and sing in. The Marymount part of the group kept giggling about wanting to sing "Firework" by Katy Perry. When we asked the Korean guys if they've watched "The Interivew," they informed us no because South Koreans can not watch anything related to North Korea. The guys were also surprised that we met with a few North Korean refugees because they did not know of any in the area. Once the discussion about North Korea was over, we described the plot to "The Interview" and tried our best to reenact the jokes while explaining the significance of the song. The guys laughed and helped us sing "Firework" before treating us to a performance of "Gangnam Style."


After awhile, we went to a very late dinner (3am) with the guys where we continued our discussions on our different cultures. I was surprised to learn that men in South Korea are required to perform two years of service (military, police, etc.). Unfortunately one of the kind gentlemen said he has to put school on hold to perform his service. It was sad for me to think that men put school on hold because it must be distracting to stop in middle of school and then continue later. Somehow the discussion went from service to beauty. Viveka asked what Korean men find attractive. This is a list of their responses:
  • creases above and under the eye.
  • bags under eye (I could've saved room in my cosmetic bag if I knew I could get away without my under eye concealer, ugh).
  • curves.
  • pale skin.
  • family values (appreciate parents).
Myself along with Karen and Viveka found this interesting because in the United States there is an emphasis to be tan, no bags under eyes, and thin. This definition of beauty was an obvious difference in our cultures but, like the common phrase, opposites do attract!

I noticed that when we discussed what each one of us was studying, the guys kept asking if they are as prominent and high class jobs in the United States like they are in South Korea. After arriving back in the United States I was talking to one of the guys and told him my plans to pursue law and help people but my mother wanted me to follow in her steps as an accountant. He gave me words of encouragement to do what made me happy but he also was intrigued if both jobs were or were not "high social professions." I replied that both were deeply respected and highly paid. After I hit send I kept thinking of the emphasis to succeed that South Koreans have. It was obvious and one of the first things the class quickly learned on the trip. South Korean students are motivated to do extremely well in school so they can attend a great university which will lead to a successful career which would allow them to support their families (especially their parents!) but it would also bring a sense of honor to the family. One of Seong-ju's friends was worried about being out late because he had tutoring very early in the morning. I am still sort of envious of the motivation that they have to succeed because I feel like most American students are more caught up in the social aspect of school and don't think about post-school.

Overall, Seoul felt like an improved version of the United States. It had technology that improved the standard of living there as well as having both modern and traditional influence on the city. Plus all of the locals appeared to be very sweet. Who wouldn't want to live in this amazing place?

Here's to an amazing trip that none of us will ever forget! Below are some of my favorite photos from the trip.
                              (Hello North Korea)
(Evelyn and I at the N Seoul Tower overlooking Seoul)

                                                                 (View of Seoul from the N Seoul Tower)


                                 (Gyeongbok Palace)


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