Ok, here’s the Sunday night wrap-up:
Friday evening I took a walk into Itaewon. It was quite interesting. Now, as you might expect it has that touristy feel with a little bit (alright a fair amount) of “being close to a military base sleaze” overlaid. Still, I had a great time. I mostly just walked around to get a feel for things, but I was not wanting to stray into an “off-limits” establishment on my first night off base. Although I am not totally clear on what is and is not off-limits, by power of my amazing deductive reasoning I concluded those bars with the scantily clad women standing in the doorway urging me to come in for a good time might have been the places I was warned to avoid. Thankfully, my power of resistance is almost as good as my deductive reasoning, and I successfully maneuvered my way out of the area. Seriously, I am a little too old to be snookered into buying $20 drinks for ladies of questionable reputation.
I did find a nice hangout called the 3 Alley Pub. Filled with foreigners, and most of them were G.I.’s. The bar is run by a German guy, and so of course I had to drink German beer. Ate dinner there (Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and peas) and drank more beer. Met and chatted with a G.I. from Fayetteville who was sitting next to me at the bar. Nice guy. So I had some more beer while we talked. Shortly thereafter I realized I had consumed too many beers and I had a 2 mile hike back to the hotel. But I made it and woke up on Saturday fully dressed.
Saturday morning I met with a realtor (actually two of them) and they took me around to look at apartments. Saw several that were pretty nice, but one in particular struck my fancy. It is in Itaewon about a mile from where I work. One of my preferences is that I be able to walk to work should the fancy strike me (having concluded that I will need to buy a car). Driving here is a little intimidating. Sorta like a perpetual game of chicken. The realtor’s driving scared and impressed me in equal amounts, but she was oblivious to all the near misses. Many of the streets are very narrow and she was driving a rather large (by Korean standards) Oldsmobile mini-van. Anyway, the apartment I liked best is on a hill and has a decent enough view, but what I really liked was the comparatively large rooms and that it had a great patio with a table and some nice landscaping. It was the only place I saw that I could really see myself making into a home. Just had that feel about it somehow. Unfortunately, it was unfurnished and I had not planned on shipping any furniture over. The realtor is going to see what the landlord is willing to do regarding furnishing, so I await the result of that negotiation. I may reconsider and buy or rent furniture on the economy if necessary, but there are still a lot of places to look at. I have almost $45,000 per year to spend and will be signing a two year lease, so I should be an attractive tenant. Oh, and when you go looking for housing, be sure and wear slip on shoes. I was tying my sneakers repeatedly throughout the morning. You just don’t wear shoes inside a residence, even if that residence is currently vacant. And another thing, I didn’t see any carpets, all the floors are hardwood (which is nice, but I will need to buy some rugs).
The highlight of the day was being treated to my first traditional Korean meal. We went to this out of the way restaurant that was formerly a Korean home. It had the private dining areas separated by partitions. The LOW table with cushions to sit on. The grill embedded in the table for cooking. The real deal I had been reading about. So we had bulgogi, which is thinly sliced marinated beef, which “we” cooked at the table. And of course two types of gimchi (plain and spicy), and all kinds of side dishes and vegetables that I don’t recall the names of. Oh, and this soup that was to die for. Everything was delicious. Very unique and flavorful. I proved so inept at using metal chopsticks, that they had to bring me a fork. It was very embarrassing, but not unexpected. (Full disclosure, I am crappy with wooden chopsticks too.) My hosts were extremely gracious and tried to put me at ease, but I did feel like such a rube. Anyway, with a fork I was able to load my lettuce leafs with all kinds of Korean goodness, and owing to my big mouth was generally successful in not making too big a mess. They asked me if I wanted something to drink and I said how about soju (I had read this was a traditional alcoholic beverage, and thought I would impress them with my astute cultural insights). They did look astonished, and then the younger of the two realtors, Ms. Jeong, said “for lunch? I drink soju only at nighttime”. Fearing I had made another faux pas I said a beer would be fine. By then it was too late, because as their guest I would not be denied. The other realtor, Ms. Kim, who was driving would not drink, but Ms. Jeong and I put a pretty good dent in the bottle. She may have just been being polite, but she seemed to be enjoying herself. I did not get drunk or anything, but I did have a nice warm feeling by the end of the meal.
This is Ms. Jeong. You can just see Ms. Kim avoiding being photographed.
After dinner shot. You can see the cooking table, but if I had any sense I would have remembered to take a picture when that table was loaded with Korean delicacies. Sorry.
I brought the leftover soju back to my room. It is still in the refridgerator.
I also was tutored in some basic Korean social graces (beyond the need to learn to use chopsticks). For example, when you are served, two hands are used and you receive with both hands. And when someone fills your soju glass, you reciprocate and fill theirs. Oh, and it was pretty funny because I kept holding doors or letting them enter first until it was explained that I was the guest and I was supposed to enter first. All very interesting, huh?
Saturday night I was invited to join my boss and his wife for dinner in their home. His new boss has also just arrived in Korea, and she attended the dinner party with her husband as well. I had read that when you are a guest in someone’s home, tradition dictates that you bring a gift. Shopping options at the hotel are somewhat limited, but I brought a bottle of wine and a small box of Godiva chocolates, and that seemed to be appreciated. Walt (my boss) has a Korean wife, and I think her name is Mi Sung (I am notoriously bad with names generally, and Korean names are a real challenge). She made a wonderful pasta dish with clams in the sauce and I cannot begin to say how pleased I was to see silverware on the dinner table. So, we ate and drank wine, and chatted the night away. Sharon (Walt’s boss, and my second-line supervisor) and her husband Bruce have been posted overseas several times. Most recently Nice, Italy. Sharon spent several years in Okinawa and Bruce was raised in Japan, so this Korean adventure is just one of a series for them. Anyway, it was great to have a social evening with the folks who I will be working for. To know me is to love me and all that stuff. So when the evening was over around 11 o’clock (can’t forget that midnight curfew) we taxied back to the hotel. No one drinks and drives in Korea (well, some do obviously, but there is zero tolerance for it, and the legal limit is .05).
My gracious dinner hosts.
My new bosses, Walt and Sharon.
Today was really cold. I did my laundry and dropped my work clothes off at the dry cleaner. I walked over to check out the commissary and had lunch at a base restaurant. Lunch sucked, but I got to watch a little on the Iraqi elections on Fox, which was nice. I’m told the Yongson commissary is the largest outside the CONUS. (yeah, I’m really getting into these military abbreviations. That’s continental United States for those who wondered what CONUS is). Anyway, it is like any large supermarket back home. I didn’t buy anything, I just wanted to be sure all the requisite comfort foods I require were available. I should do alright from the looks of things. The tortillas which are a staple of my limited cooking repertoire were frozen, but hey, I can deal with a little hardship. It builds character!
So, that was my weekend. Back to work tomorrow and I plan to dive right in and start asserting myself. I finally got my permanent ID on Friday, so I’m officially employed as far as the Army is concerned. I am getting more comfortable with each passing day and I have finally adjusted my sleep pattern to the local time zone. Although it is still freaky to think about watching the superbowl on Monday morning. People here take leave and have big breakfast parties. Don’t know that I am going to do that this year, want to save my leave for travel.
Ok, more on my life later. Here are some photos I took this afternoon.
The Seoul Tower is the dominant landmark around here. I need to do the tour.
The Korean National Museum is still under construction. Just outside the fence on land the Army returned to the ROK. Pronounced rock. Meaning the Republic of Korea. I kept wandering why the General was talking about Iraq, then I used those powers of deduction and figured it out. Duh.
These high rises are right off post. I looked at an apartment in one, but it’s just not for me.
This is a little waterfall like thing that is part of the hotel landscaping. Just to prove that it is cold today.