This month is off to a good start. We’ve had a few sporadic snow flurries (nothing sticks and it is minuscule amounts falling at best) but it has been very cold in the twenties at night and extremely dry. Hand and face lotion as well as chap stick are items I rarely use back home but over here it is a necessity. On the plus side these shorter days a lower temperatures are really making me look forward to my approaching vacation in Thailand. Nothing to increase the anticipation for the warm, sunny beaches of Koh Samoi like the onset of Seoul winter.

Anticipation rising!

The month started out a little somber as some of the friends I spent the most time with departed back home. My friends Jacob and Mary left for a week’s vacation before returning to Portland to reenter their lives there. I was acquaintances with Mary while attending Western and we both laughed as she left that it was our experiences in Korea that really solidified our friendship from being people you said hello to friends who knew the backgrounds and value of each other. Funny how being in an expat community can do that to you.

Ahhh, my futbol watching partners in crime, your presence will be missed over here.

Her boyfriend Jacob was probably my numero uno amigo over here. I will sincerely miss Yahtzee nights at the low-key Irish bar Madigans in Hwagok every Friday and talking smack while playing pool and darts with Ratatat playing in the background. He also had weekly appointments at an area just past my stop so we frequently got together in my hood every week on Tuesday or Thursday and would talk for hours at a local hof or outside the Cultwo Mart. We didn’t know each other in college but through our stories of our time there discovered a plethora of shared friends and adventures.

It’s a surreal feeling talking to a friend you’ve met in Seoul and piecing together that you were both at the same crazy, uber-granola house party in college. Unlike many friends I had to say my farewells to I look forward to future adventures in Portland and Seattle this upcoming Summer. So many of the people you meet here you know you will probably never see again outside of Seoul. It’s good to get the ones where you can already anticipate enjoying epic times in the near future back home.

A similar goodbye was my coworker Dallas. After 3 years at our Hagwon he was ready to try a different style of workplace. Though he will be back in January I do already miss our weeknights out. Not really being one to go huge on the Weekend nights outside of our neighborhood he was surprising keen on having good conversations/watching high-brow or less main stream movies and sharing a drink on the weeknight. An appreciation for these things is fairly lacking  in term of my other coworkers so the notable lack of entertainment on weeknights has been in strong contrast to last month.

Now that my friend base has significantly decreased I’m already hitting up quite a few more shows. Feel like I may have to go to some of those social mixer events to up the networking a little more. This weekend I attended a pretty good show at club spot with quite a few metalcore and some grind bands and then followed it up by attending the monthly spinning at Roots Time in Hongdae. Won a dollar (harhar) from my coworker because I encountered some “Fresh from Incheon” expats who just arrived last weekend at the Little Travelers’ show from the weekend before.

I had told them to check out Roots Time and my coworker had said there was no they’d cruise all the way back up from their base in Suwon to see somebody spinning vinyl at a hole in the wall. Turns out he underestimated the yearning for Reggae in a K-Pop fanatic culture, easy money…

The Little Travelers show featured 6 clubs and over 20 bands with all proceeds going to nonprofits for women with AIDS in South Africa. Nothing like rocking out to a good cause. While I was winning money and dipping my head to the tracks at Roots Time I also ran into my buddy from Finland who is a student at Yonsei University nearby. Libations were had into the wee hours and I gained a healthy respect for the Finnish ethanol tolerance.

Tuesday was also great as it was a good friend’s birthday. We had dinner at the Peruvian joint Cusco. The food was great. My Arroz con Pollo was excellent, I was tempted by the fusion chicken dish but Latin American curry seemed like it might be hit or miss so I went for the standard fare. One friend ordered the octopus ceviche and I must admit, for the first time eating raw tentacles it was really good. I even enjoyed the stringy seafood that adorned the dish along with the marinated red onions and hearty South American corn (bigger kernels and much starchier with a real chew factor). The birthday amigo and his girlfriend split a bottle of Chilean wine branded with El Diablo and spirits were high.

Arroz con Pollo Peruvian style was a great gastro start to the night.

We left there to get a nice cocktail at Lucky Strike up the block. My first month here we pulled this same itinerary and it was kind of surreal feeling my first case of Seoul nostalgia. After 7 months it still feels like I just showed up last week. I stuck with my classic Manhattan and felt like a Advertisement Exec baller as always. Lucky Strike is based on the cigarette which leaves for a lot of retro decor and a cool funky feel. It has a take out window on the side and interesting caricatures of alcohol etched into the windows. Rum is a guzzling pirate and Gin is a lidded, urban socialite. A swarthy Russian Vodka with the stereotypical Moscow tall hat and a bottle sticking out of his pocket while still ordering 1 more with a gloved had accompanied by a passed out Tequila with a droopy stache and a large sombrero complete the quartet.

Proof once more that nothing is trademarked in Korea.

Drinks are well made here and perfectly stiff. However the cost is a bit much (my Manhattan was 10,000 Won) and after already having splurge we went next door to Rock and Roll bar for one last drink before ending an earlyish night out. This was just one more example of how you can walk into a random divey looking basement bar here and be completely taken by surprised. The atmosphere was great, the drinks modest in cost, the help courteous and fluent in English and there was even a huge fluffy cat that walked like he owned the place. Excellent. I ended up having an extra drink of Red Rock (Korean made, fairly decent Amber Ale) on tap due to finding an unspoken gem like this. A brief spate of worry over the approaching midnight hour (average subway cut-off time) was solved by the ever helpful foreign helpline. Just dial 1330 and a friendly Seoulite who speaks English will help you with any inquires from “How late does the two-line run from Hapjeong to Daelim?” to “where can I find a pool with a diving in South East Seoul?”. Thank you Seoul, another successful night!

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Well today marks the anniversary of my 26th year in action. At roughly 9am at Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland, WA after 26 hours of labor yours truly emerged screaming my first epic yodel out to the world. Wasn’t quite the looker, some of you might not have heard of this phenomenon but prolonged labor and the ongoing  pressure of  exiting the womb can have a funny effect on a baby’s soft skull. I definitely came out looking similar to Dan Akroyd in the SNL based film the cone heads. My great-grandfather made a statement to the effect of “Congratulations you two but that is one ugly looking little boy”. My father said it was fairly disconcerting watching the doctor mold my head into the proper shape and I still have some funky ridges and bumps that show up whenever I Bic it in the summertime (which doesn’t happen often here in Seoul for fear of being confused with one of the enlisted gents you see in Itaewon).

On Saturday I was hoping to go to the FC Seoul game at World Cup Stadium but the monsoon season rains kinda killed that idea the day of. Not to big of a loss though since I still connected with some friends and made it to Hongdae. My birthday present to myself was a stop by Roots Time and having one golden hour sans KPop and its redundant, trivial tendencies. To each their own but for some one whose favorite genres are Metal and Reggae just can’t seem to abide the stuff myself.

After Roots Time we all went to one of the clubs around here and much dancing and debauchery commenced. All in all I had a great time. The last time I was abroad for my birthday was my 14th or 15th in Puerto Villarta, Mexico with my family. They are not here in Seoul but I feel I made the most of it and am appreciative for the friends and coworker that made it out. Tonight I’m taking it much easier (still start at 9am tomorrow at my hagwon) but am going to playbar in the neighboring district of Guro to play some pool and darts. Glad I’m still excited to celebrate my birthdays, once I get past my mid-twenties I see them more as a source of apprehension then celebration, haha!

  

Oddly ornate Western architecture.

   There has been a ton of adventures and small stories to put down this last week. Rather than spend a ton of time documenting all of them I figured I’d put it down in a series of installments. Hence all of the post in a day or two since they’re covering a pretty packed 5 day period. Did my best to keep them somewhat in time-linear order though.

   So this weekend all of my coworkers were going out to stay at a pension (kind of like a house you can rent for the weekend) on the East coast. They had placed the reservation before I arrived and were apologizing profusely about not being able to invite me since it was already booked. This crew is way too nice, haha.

   Since they were all leaving early Saturday morning they were taking it pretty easy Friday night. I on the other hand kind of was wanting to go see some of the city. It was a 3 day weekend and for some reason or another was feeling the itch to go do some dancing and have a drink or two. Hung out with one coworker and watched a Werner Herzog documentary about the people who live and worked in Antarctica. Great flick. Headed out for the subway at about 11:30 to catch the last train into Hongdae.

   I knew that the subway stops running from midnight to about 5:30 so I was going out late on the off-chance I might stay out until the first run. Subways here cost no more than $1.40 at most whereas a cab back to my apartment would run me around $15 (which is still far less than the equivalent cab ride would be back in Seattle). I know some people back at home might be a little alarmed when they here I went out at midnight for a night on the town by myself (Dad, I know you are cringing as you read this) but this is a really safe part of town and my coworkers gave me a summary of how to make a night of it when going out solo.

   I also like the immersion aspect of going out with no one else. With other foreigners I can feel somewhat insulated by the numerous aspects of Seoul and Korean culture that seem so alien to me. By myself I was forced to observe more carefully and be a little more bold in talking to people whose grasp of my language was unknown to me. I could have gone to Itaewon and been surrounded by other foreigners but I kind of like the challenge of being forced to adapt and be on your toes socially.

   My first stop of the night was at “Roots Time” which is a small reggae bar. There were only two other girls in their at the time and by the time I left I would be the only patron. My coworker had warned me that it was either really packed (the max occupancy is probably only 20 people with no standing room) or pretty dead. Tonight was a dead night. I did enjoy listening to some good old school roots reggae, flipping through their vinyl collection and chatting with the Japanese bar tender who is an avid reggae fan. He was pretty stoked when he saw my Motorhead t-shirt but we shared a laugh about the fact that if heavy music and reggae are your favorite genres then epic shows in Seoul are going to be few and far between. Had one beer, chatted for a while and then left.

Big ups to this tiny bar.

   I had trouble finding the specific bar (Sk@ bar) I had been to and had a great time dancing and meeting Korean college kids at so ended up at Zen Bar where a lot of foreigners frequent. The fact that I just had gotten my haircut and don’t yet have an ARC made the bouncer pretty wary of me. I think he thought I was enlisted as he grudgingly let me in with a very firm, repeated warning of “No fighting.” Talked with a Korean tattoo artist for a bit but this stop was fairly uneventful.

   After hitting the streets I was still sober, being solo is nice in the fact that if you are somewhat intelligent you probably limit your intake of ethanol…and ready to find Sk@ bar. Asked an Irish chap on the street and got some great directions. Went there and danced pretty tough, met some Korean and Italian kids and had a great time. On the way back to my station I actually ended up sitting in between two Korean guys the same age as me, one of whom was born in the states and had just moved over and the other who had just got back from living in Texas for 4 years. Great coincidence, we shared some stories, laughed about cultural differences and the night ended on a good note as I waved goodbye upon disembarking at Daelim station.

   Oh, I also saw a painting of “The Little Prince” above a DVD store. My godfather Lugino bought me this book as a child and it was one of my favorites. Brought a smile to my face seeing a familiar literary reference. I guess there’s also a themed town based of the book and a semi-recent movie remake of it. Props to the Korean people for respecting Antoine de Saint-Exupéry so much.

The heart-warming story of life's circle via interstellar travel.