Friday, April 13, 2012

Seoul Searching

Having spent a year and a half in Southeast Asian countries, a week in Seoul was something of a shock to the senses. Accustomed to hot, humid weather, a laidback pace of life, and dirt-cheap everything, we suddenly found ourselves thrust into the middle of a surprisingly Western city, complete with winter temperatures, urban sprawl, and smog. Luckily, we were visiting my college roommate, Mr. Peter West, so we had our own built in tour guide, making it much easier to adjust to such Western living (and someone with female friends who could loan me warm clothes and shoes, without which I may have frozen to death).

While tagging along with Peter, I learned a handful of interesting things about South Korean food, culture and lifestyle. 

In a world without scooters, tuk-tuks, or motorbike taxis, having an efficient transportation system is invaluable. Getting all around Seoul, and to the surrounding cities, was incredibly simple given a massive web of subway lines and bus routes. Thanks to easy transport, we were able to spend time roaming through palaces, perusing modern malls, walking Korean street markets, meandering streets lined with tea shops and traditional houses, and sampling Korean and Western foods. 

Scissors are vastly underrated in the West. In Korean restaurants, scissors are a widely used utensil. Used to snip off noodles served from a common dish, scissors prevent that sloppy snap that flings sauce everywhere. At Korean BBQ (or "Meat Restaurants" as they are locally known), scissors are also used instead of a fork and steak knife. Both solutions are so simple, but I wouldn't have thought of them on my own. 

Soju is the devil. Alcohol made from sweet potatoes, plus a dash of evil, soju is a dangerous drink. It might not taste very strong, but when ingested soju can cause incredible intoxication, as well as spontaneous attacks of boisterous laughter and random fits of karaoke. It is also known to cause the worst hangover ever. 

Southeast Asia might be less "developed" than South Korea, but I vastly prefer their ideas on what constitutes an appropriate workload. The Koreans spend the majority of their time working or studying, sometimes into the wee hours of the night. There's something much nicer about living in a culture that values free time, a lack of stress, and an afternoon nap. 

Traditional architecture interwoven among highrise apartment buildings, Seoul is the combination of ancient Asian culture and modern Western influence, with a dash of poorly structured English and brightly colored cartoon characters. Seoul was the perfect layover between Southeast Asia and America.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kop Khun Kah

Thank you, Thailand, for eighteen wonderful months. Thank you for costing so little, but offering so much. Thank you for people so friendly and open. Thank you for incredible students, co-workers, and pets. Thank you for little bananas, sweet sweet mangoes, and introducing me to mangosteen. Thank you for monkeys and tigers and geckos (oh my!). Thank you for locals who draw eyebrows on cats and put T-shirts on dogs.

Thank you for helping me to become both an English teacher and a Yoga teacher. Thank you for cheap food and beer. Thank you for tuk-tuks and third class trains. Thank you for squat toilets and cold showers (because what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger).Thank you for "Thai time" and total chaos.

But mostly, thank you for helping me to triumph over Western pitfalls of stress and worry. Thank you for forcing me outside of my comfort zone, it has made all the difference.