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Aside from getting to see a piece of Korean culture and tradition, another reason to go see the local festivals is that they only happen once a year. And if you’re only there for a year, you basically only get one chance to see them. Obviously. Luckily, since I stayed for year and a half, I got to see the Lotus Lantern Festival twice. This is probably my second favorite Korean festival after Mud Fest. Naturally (seriously, go to Mud Fest if you can!).

I wish this time around, I had also been able to go to some of the other, smaller festivals that celebrate Buddha’s birthday and lead up to the lantern festival. Unfortunately, this time around I was also quite busy, and therefore I wasn’t able to help continue the AWESOME scavenger hunt from the year before. But at least I got to see the lanterns again. A bunch of (wise) co-workers went too.

Last time around, I had tried to take pictures which failed miserably. This time I took videos. MUCH more successful. So if you go to this festival, record it with videos.

This only came out in the darkness because it was stationary.

One funny thing happened at the festival. I was standing up against the barrier between the onlookers and the parade. Next to me was a family who spoke French. The daughter was sitting up close to the barrier and, being a cute foreign child, a woman in the parade came by and gave her a lantern and everyone was delighted. Not sure what to do with it, she gave it to her parents who were sitting behind her and they put it on the floor. So then another woman gave her another lantern and she passed that back to her parents who put it down. Then the girl was given a pikachu lantern (which I have to admit was super cool). This continued until everyone in her family, which was about six or seven people, had a lantern. It was cute the first couple of times but… there were other people who wanted lanterns (like me!). Share your lanterns, French-speaking people.

Anyway, lanterns are pretty cool souvenirs to get from Korean, but difficult to take home as they are made of paper. I had gotten a lantern from an AMAZING Tibetan restaurant in Dongdaemuncalled Everest and only managed to get it home because it could be folded up. And even then, it still got a tear on one of the paper panes.

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As an English teacher in Korea, I’ve hit a milestone (maybe?).  First of all, I’ve been here for 10 months now (Woo! Two digits) and second of all, I just celebrated Chuseok (추석).  Chuseok is kind of like American Thanksgiving, celebrating the harvest (in the old days), visiting your family and such. I didn’t really do any of that, since there was no harvest to speak of in Yeongtong Suwon and my family is in another country.

But I got three days off from work (WOOOOOO!), from Tuesday to Thursday, and I was going to make use of it some how! Unfortunately, three days in the middle of the week meant I couldn’t easily go to another country (although some teachers still did), and a trip to Jeju that a bunch of us were looking forward to never manifested because the ball was dropped big time. No one actually bothered to book a flight or hotel.

So instead, I spent the holiday/vacation in Seoul and Suwon, celebrating with my Korean family.

Tuesday saw a crazy rainstorm sweep through the area and it just so happened that was the day Quinn and I went into Seoul to visit a cat cafe in Hongdae. Unfortunately, we got stuck in Gangnam, which was practically flooded from the 12-ish inches of rain that was coming down! However, once we eventually got to the cat cafe, we were pleasantly surprised.

It costs ₩ 8,000 to get in, so it’s not something I’d do regularly, but the atmosphere is nice and, unlike at the dog cafe where the animals have ADD, the cats are pretty content to sit there and let you pet them. And sometimes, they pet back.

(Pictures to come)

Wednesday, which happened to be Chuseok, was a much more casual day and a much deserved day to sleep in very late. But after sleeping in very late, I went to a DVD room with Quinn and Linda, one of the new April teachers. What is a DVD room you might ask? Well it’s a room where  you can go and watch DVDs! It’s a bit expensive – ₩15,000 for the three of us. But the atmosphere is nice. You get a big screen, comfortable couches and surround sound, at least at this one, so it’s nicer than watching a movie on one’s laptop.

Thursday saw an adventure into Seoul and fun times on the bus system. I’ve slowly been trying to learn the buses in Seoul since they’re way more convenient and usually faster and nicer than the subway system. As of right now, bus 420 is my good friend since it travels between Gangnam, Itaewon and Dongdaemun, three common haunts of yours truly.

Anyway, on Thursday, Quinn and I introduced Linda to the bus system. From Gangnam we had wanted to go to Itaewon and check out the Namsan Botanical Gardens, which is near Itaewon. Now, we did go to Itaewon but unfortunately he ended up exploring in every direction EXCEPT the one direction where the gardens were. And apparently everyone in Itaewon (or at least everyone we asked) had never heard of the Namsan Botanical Gardens before. What a shame, it was such a nice day for garden-watching. But it wasn’t a complete fail. I finally got to sample the Taco Bell cuisine that opened there a few months ago.

After that, we met Derrika, Kevin and Allison in Myeongdong. Derrika is going home on vacation this Friday and she wanted to buy souvenirs for her family before she left. We didn’t by an souvenirs but we did a have a good time in Myeongdong, our little make-shift CDI family. And at the end of the day, we headed back to Itaewon to eat a delicious Chuseok feast at La Tavola, which FYI has the best lasagna (and only real, authentic lasagna ) I’ve been able to find in Korea.

All in all, a very casual and relaxing Chuseok.

Saturday was the big day! Miss Saigon!

On Saturday, Quinn, Vy and I hoofed it over to Dongdaemun in Seoul to see a performance of Miss Saigon – in Korean! A language of which we have only the most basic knowledge! And between the three of us, our knowledge of the plot was okay, although there was room for improvement.

The only thing I really knew about the musical was what Quinn told me right before we went to see it, and that knowledge came from the performance he saw when he was a kid so… yeah…It would have been easy to just Wikipedia Miss Saigon and read the story but I thought it might be nice to try and figure out the story with my basic understanding of the plot. And that strategy (which is similar to the one Vy was employing) worked pretty well. Kudos to the performers for making it easy for us.

The musical was excellent, although now that I’ve heard the music for the first time in Korean, the English version of the songs just don’t sound right. We bought tickets for the cheap seats but they ended up being great. Being dead center for “The Morning of the Dragon” is definitely a must. I’ve been trying to find another performance of the song on YouTube but nothing that I find is even close to how awesome this one was. Huge flags, a sea of red, on-point martial arts-based choreography. Very awesome. Also awesome – the crazy over the top, video enhanced rendition of “American Dream”. Honestly, I wish there was a video somewhere of their performances. I did manage to find this video of “I Still Believe” (sung by Kim Bo-Kyung and Kim Sun-Young who played Kim and Ellen, respectively, in the performance we saw) which also happens to have the last seconds of “The Morning of the Dragon” in it. So at least you can see their costumes.

And the evening following the performance was just as excellent in a surprisingly low key way. We went to Hongdae, in hopes of meeting with some friends that never showed up. But all was not lost! We ended up in the park outside Hongik University and goofed around on the swings, which was a shockingly excellent way to spend our time. Unfortunately, I also ended up kicking Quinn in the face, something that (I have a feeling) might come back to haunt me. And then we chilled out with some fellow foreigns and some friendly Koreans who taught us words we can’t remember, until the sun rose again.

We stayed in Seoul until the next morning to go to Big Rock Brewery, which serves an American-style breakfast buffet in Gangnam (introduced to us, coincidently, by the people we were supposed to meet in Hongdae). It’s very similar to Butterfingers, which I mentioned in a previous post, but it’s a little cheaper. And it doesn’t open until 11am so we were basically camped outside in the rain until it opened. That’s how much we love Big Rock.

And now I have next weekend to look forward to: MudFest 2010!

Today, Quinn, Alex, Derrika and I met a bunch of the training gang in Dongdaemun for some discount shopping and later dinner in Itaewon. It was a weird, rainy day, so a pretty good day to be indoors shopping. I mainly wanted to get a new jacket so I don’t wear out the hoodie that I’ve been wearing. It’s served me surprisingly well in the cold winter months, but I want to give it a break.

Thanks partially to Derrika’s insistance that I need to indulge myself, I also got a few other things (although Quinn was NOT the barging help that I thought it would be or that he claimed to be! Fail, Quinn!). Anyway, for the most part I got pretty good deals on everything. My replacement hoodie was a really reasonable price.

Although a little morbid, we are all in agreement that Skull Hoodie was also cute, and in line with Korean style.

As an added bonus, there is a mouth in it's pocket! Time to find a red tie for a tongue...

One of the items that Quinn did NOT help with negotiating on... For some reason, Quinn and Alex were set on me buying this. But it will have to wait for Summer to be worn.

I got the jacket for a pretty good price, and some cheap shirts for mixing and matching.

After shopping, we all ended up going to Itaewon for dinner. I wish I were hungry since I ended up eating at this delicious Mexican place. Sadly, there’s nowhere to get Mexican food in Yeongtong… Following dinner, we had some hot chocolate and tea in Starbucks (neatly avoiding the loud American revelers out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day) and I decided to head home since it was getting late.

And its a good thing I did head home at that time, if not for me that for the guy I was sitting next to on the subway! Before I get into that story, let me just say my hunch was right. There ARE two subways that run on Line 1, one that goes to Incheon and another that follows a minute or two behind and goes to Sinchang or Cheonan.

Now back to the man, who was lucky I was on the subway! On the train to Cheonan, I happened to sit by this guy who was listening to an ipod or something. I too was listening to my ipod. BUT! Fortunately for the man, I had to pause my music occasionally to hear what stop was coming up because the electronic sign that normal tells the stops wasn’t working in my particular car.

Right around Guro (where Line 1 branches of to Incheon and Sinchang) I paused it so I could double-check I was absolutely on the right train (burn me once, shame on you, Seoul subway…). When I did, I heard a slight thunk and looked down to see the man’s cellphone had fallen out of his pocket. I figured he’d probably notice it, since he did sit on it. And since he was sitting on it. But he didn’t notice it and when he got up to leave about two stops from Suwon I saw he didn’t take his cellphone.

Now, I won’t say I’m necessarily prone to loosing things, but I have on occasion thought that something was securely stowed on my person only to find later that I am no longer securely carrying that thing.  So I wasn’t about to let this guy walk off with his cellphone. When I gave it back to him, he was very grateful and there was much bowing until he finally got off.

So ended my day. And with this blog, I start my Sunday.

Yesterday, I taught my Monday 4pm Bridge Reading class becuase it had been cancelled on Monday due to Lunar New Year. Afterwards, a bunch of the CDI and April teachers went out to a galbi (갈비) restaurant for dinner to celebrate Blake’s (the head instructor at April) birthday. Suwon is suppose to have the best galbi in Korea and this place was pretty delicious (and expensive! but that’s okay every once and a while).

After dinner, Maggie (the CDI faculty manager) and Jason (who works at Dongtan) said they were going shopping at Dongdaemun (동대문, meaning “Great East Gate” as Jason told us) in Seoul. Dondaemun is home to both the Dongdaemun Market and the Night Market, where you can buy all kinds of clothes and accessories. Quinn and I decided to tag along and possibly pick stuff up for cheap.

On a side note, Jason was telling us that Namdaemun (남대문, meaning “Great South Gate; also known as Sungnyemun -숭례문 – or “Gate of Exallted Ceremonies”) was apparently burned down in 2008 by some 69-year-old man. He burned down South Korea’s greatest treasure because, apparently, some land developers didn’t pay him in full for the land he sold them. And this wasn’t the first time he turn to arson to solve his problems – trying to burn down Changgyeonggung Palace… How is this guy managing to burn down Korea’s NUMBER ONE NATIONAL MONUMENT and a freaking palace?

Back to Dongdaemun! It was a neat little area and I wish I had brought my camera with me because the gate at night was pretty cool. We also drove by the bell they ring at (Solar) New Year. After sitting in traffic that shouldn’t have been there for a good amount of time, we eventually arrived at the Night Market, which is several streets of heavily packed yellow tents. Quinn and I got separated from Maggie and Jason pretty early on (yay for cell phones) so we ended up wandering over to Doota!, one of the department stores of Dongdaemun market.

SO. The Market. Jason had warned us it would be overwhelming for newbies and the night pretty sufficiently insulated us from being extremely overwhelmed but even in just Doota! … there was a lot going on. First of all, Dongdaemun market has 26 shopping malls. That’s not 26 stores – that’s 26 separate malls. With in each mall, there’s like… A LOT of stores…

Quinn and I wandered around Doota!, speaking German (we decided we need to learn the German word for ‘snazzy’) and marveling at the many-buckled shoes and that crazy sweater thing that zippers across the chest instead of down. I finally got a belt, which I’ve been putting off getting for it seems forever, for no particular reason. Quinn really wanted to get suspenders. I was pretty skeptical that we would find any but somehow, after looking at only two stores on the men’s clothing floor, we found them.

After that, we met back up with Maggie and Jason at Hello A/PM, another mall, where haggling was abound! Jason managed to get a ₩150,000 suit for only ₩100,000. Quinn (who I need to bring with me any time I plan to haggle because he’s pretty much vicious) was able to get a vest and jeans for a pretty great discount. However, it took so long to eventually get to that discount that I can’t remember how much the price was at the beginning. But the guys and gal at that stand of clothing were very friendly and excited to hear we were from the US and Canada.

To end the night, we all went back to the Night Market and picked up a couple of small things. Knowing that soon my sneakers will be giving out, I picked up a pretty cool pair of blue hiking boots (picture to come), which will hopefully come in handy when the weather starts getting nicer and I try hiking around the mountains of Suwon.