Itaewon, The Nutcracker, My first Jimjillbang and the Biggest Movie Screen in the World!

It’s been awhile since I’ve written! And this past weekend was so exhausting that I get a headache just thinking about it.

Though I’m not teaching classes right now because my students are finished with finals, I feel like I’ve been busy these last few weeks. My school has a winter camp that I have to prepare for and I recently got involved with a non-profit called Teach North Korean Refugees. I never in a million years thought I’d actually get to work with North Koreans, but life is strange and sometimes we end up doing things we never imagined.

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Nearly every week, I meet with 2 North Koreans and teach them English one-on-one. I was a little scared that it would be awkward and that I wouldn’t know what to do, but so far, all our meetings have been very enjoyable. Teaching unmotivated middle school students is completely different than tutoring students who ACTUALLY want to learn. I’ve never seen 2 men so willing and ready to learn a language. It’s inspiring.

I also joined a “popping” dance class for a day with a friend who lives on my island. I was not expecting it to be so intense! The dance instructor had so much energy! I’d really like to join this dance studio for a month, but am currently broke in my Korean bank account. I haven’t received a full paycheck since I’ve gotten to Korea because my school keeps taking money out of my check for insurance, etc. They assure me that I’ll get it back when I leave Korea, but it’s still annoying not having a full salary yet. Thankfully, I should receive all of my money next month and then I can actually spend money and go places!

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The majority of places/event I’ve been to in Korea have been free. There are SO MANY free things to do here. Most museums are free. And it doesn’t cost money to hang out at a bar or club if you so please. The majority of my money goes to food, which is inexpensive. However, I buy so much food BECAUSE it’s inexpensive that it all adds up.

I see what people mean when they say that life gets in the way of traveling around Korea. I don’t want my life to get in the way though and I always try to take advantage of any free moment by exploring. I think it exhausts some people, but I just remember that I’m not going to be in Korea forever and may only have this limited amount of time to see it.

Because of this, I actually visited The National Museum of Korea last weekend when I only had a few hours of time to myself. It was enormous and very well organized! I’m glad I got to see it. There were also tons of places to sit down!

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My weekend began right after school on Friday. A friend of mine mentioned that a girl I recently met was going to be singing at an open mic night in Itaewon.

Itaewon is a huge foreigner hub with tons of shops and restaurants. They even have an On the Border! A lot of the US military are also located near Itaewon, so this might explain why it’s very foreign-like.

I am personally not a huge fan of the area because it feels like going to a Koreatown in the USA. They do have a great English bookstore there though, so that’s a plus. But other than that, it’s kind of just okay. I’d rather hang out in a more traditional Korean neighborhood.

Anyways, after school, a few of us islanders headed to a bar called The Hidden Cellar. I haven’t actually been to a ton of bars here (I’m not a big drinker) so it was nice going out on a Friday night.

Besides our friend, only a few others sang during open mic. I did really enjoy listening to a group of Irishmen sing. One of the guitarists was really talented and I danced freely to the music.

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Already in the dancing mood, my friends and I decided to go to a popular club nearby. OH MY GOODNESS. This was my first nightclub experience in Seoul and it was a hot mess. The music was okay but everything else was all over the place. I felt like I had stepped into a literal Miley Cyrus music video. While I did dance a bit, I was so tired that I mainly just wanted to sit by myself and watch everyone. Clubs are the perfect places to people watch and most of the time, those people are super entertaining.

Itaewon is also notorious for being raunchy at night. I get it now. I totally get it.

Around 4, my group decided to leave that hot mess of a club and head to bed. Because we missed the last subway, we decided to sleep at a jimjillbang.

Jimjillbangs are Korean spa/bath houses. The spa sections are separated by gender because they are literal bath houses where you bathe in the nude. Thankfully, I knew what I was getting myself into so the stripping down and going into a giant shower part wasn’t so awkward. Maybe I was just tired though.

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My favorite K-drama, A Secret Garden, was filmed here!

My favorite K-drama, A Secret Garden, was filmed here!

One thing I’ve missed while living in Korea is taking a bath. Well, I don’t have to miss baths anymore because a jimjillbang has several giant jacuzzi tubs. They are AWESOME. Even though they aren’t private, they’re still relaxing.

After bathing, you can go to a common area and sleep. I ended up sleeping in the “women only” section and barely catching a wink. The bed was super uncomfortable, but I did get about 4 hours of sleep in.


The next morning, I had one mission — find breakfast. I wanted to find a cool, local cafe in the Itaewon area, but there were mostly just stores and chains. Just one more reason to dislike Itaewon I suppose. Finally, I settled on a little Turkish bakery that looked delicious. I bought a baklava sampler and some Turkish tea that tasted like Lipton.

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I also headed to the English bookstore nearby and bought A Wrinkle in Time. I’m SO excited to read this book.

Around noon, I headed to my friend Leslie’s apartment, where I knew I would be staying the night. I dropped my stuff at her place and we headed to lunch together.

Our lunch was in the Hyundai Department Store. Department stores are not at all like the ones in the States. They are MASSIVE multi-level stores that often include a place to buy groceries and a giant food court. We ate pho at the giant food court. I’m pretty proud of myself because the menu was in Korean and I could still read it. My reading has improved significantly since arriving here, though I still have trouble understanding what it is I’m actually reading.

After lunch, we took the subway to the Universal Arts Center, where we met my friend Julia and watched a beautiful rendition of The Nutcracker. The main ballerina was absolutely stunning. She stole the show.

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The theater was also super fancy.

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Upon leaving the theatre, we had just enough time to head over to my church’s Ugly Christmas Sweater party.

Julia won for the ugly sweater contest.

Julia won the ugly sweater contest.

We met my small group there and had a delicious buffet of barbecue. There was so much food I barely knew what to do with myself. One thing I’m learning here is that Koreans like to eat. A lot. And yet, they all seem to be very fit. Maybe it’s something in the diet or their metabolism or the fact that there are stairs everywhere, but whatever it is, it’s working.


Sunday was a lot more chill as I headed to church. My small group had a White Elephant gift exchange, and I received a scarf and some gloves. We also ate at an Asian restaurant that specializes in serving different types of food from around Asia (not just Korea). It got me pumped for Thailand in February!

Last, but not least, my friend Leslie and I headed over to the Lotte Department Store in the Lotte World Tower.

Forget the Mall of America. The Lotte World Tower is the most beautiful, wonderful mall I’ve ever been to. I’m a little bummed we didn’t get to walk around it, but you can rest assure that I will shop there in the future.

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Some K-Pop band was signing autographs

Some K-Pop band was signing autographs

Our reason for going to this ginormous mall was because they house one of the largest movie screens in the world! As a massive film buff, I was pumped. The movie theatre was housed on several floors and the specific theatre we went to looked more like a concert venue than a theatre. They even had a stage!

Of course we watched Star Wars on that giant screen and I absolutely loved it.

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Though I enjoy teaching here, I have really been missing film a lot. I love watching movies and they always remind me of my dream to work in the film industry one day. I wonder if maybe “one day” should be sooner rather than later. Life is too short to waste it.

But who knows where I’ll be in a year… If there’s one thing Korea is teaching me, it’s that anything can happen.

Faith

What do you think?