Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas in the Land of the Morning Calm

(click on the pictures to enbiggen)

Christmas from the Land of the Morning Calm! This was my first Christmas away from home, and I was worried I would be homesick, but I had a wonderful time. I was hoping for a white Christmas, but no luck. Instead, I got a white day before Christmas Eve, which really doesn't have the same ring. The snow was all gone by Christmas, and now the sidewalks are fraught with patches of stealth!ice, and the sand yard in front of my school is frozen and feels funny to walk on. It was nice while it lasted, though.

It was strange celebrating Christmas in a non-Christian country. Christmas is such a big deal in America, what with the decorations and the Christmas lights and the Christmas parties and Christmas music playing non-stop from every speaker in the country. For most of my life I didn't know what date Christmas was, which got me mocked by friends, but you don't *need* to remember the actual date. There's a big national countdown going on everywhere you look. Christmas in Korea is a lot more subtle. Only 25% of Korea is Christian, so there isn't much of a secular component to the holiday. A couple of store fronts were decorated and we sang Christmas carols in my fourth grade class last Friday (my co-teacher printed off a bunch of Christmas carols and asked me if I could teach them. I said sure, assuming she had music to go along, but no, all she's done was print off the lyrics and I had to sing all the songs a cappella so the kids could learn the tune), but Christmas snuck up on me this year. At least it's an important enough holiday for me to get the day off work.

I had English camp on Christmas Eve, and we had a Christmas party for the last period. I brought hot chocolate, my co-teacher brought chips and chocolate candies and some of the kids brought goodies from home. I gave the kids green and brown construction paper, and printed off a bunch of ornaments and we made Christmas trees. I played Christmas carols while they worked and taught them "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". My students kept feeding me chips. They wouldn't hand me the chips thought, they would only put them directly in my mouth, which they found hilarious. Ugg, first graders are so precious.

After school, I headed out to Siobhain's for Christmas, which was an adventure in itself. First, I got stuck in a massive human traffic jam at Sadang (my second least favorite subway stop) and ended up on the Inner Line instead of the Outer Line. It was easier to just take the train in the wrong direction to a less crowded subway stop and switch to the Outer Line instead of fighting my way back through that crowd, but it did add another twenty minutes to my trip. Then I got off at the wrong bus stop for Siobhain's apartment and ended up walking ten minutes in the opposite direction. I spent quite a bit of time on the phone with Siobhain's friend Tim as we tried to determine where I actually was.

Tim: Wait, can you see apartments around you? (Apartments are the most common thing in Korea. They are everywhere. I doubt there is anywhere in this entire country, much less Seoul, that isn't within site of at least three different apartment complexes.)
Cait: Yes, Tim. I'm still in Korea. I can still see apartments.
Tim: Oh... right.

I eventually made it to Siobhain's apartment. Siobhain's friend Tim, their friend Edward (I can not remember Edward's Korean name because a) I'm shit at names, b) I'm even worse with Korean names and c) he introduced himself as Edward, but, in case you were confused by the name, Edward is Korean) and I spent the night at Siobhain's. Siobhain, who actually has a *real* kitchen in her apartment AND knows how to cook made dinner while the rest of us sat around and drank. Because we're a real class act. I never got more than tipsy (turns out I meant that promise of never drinking again) but the boys were wasted. They decided to take shots of soju like Korean men, which means sitting on the floor and flicking the twisty part of the bottle cap until it came off, at which point the winner had to take a shot. There were no shot glasses, however, so they took what amounted to double or triple shots out of coffee mugs (one had a cartoon lion on it, the other was orange and had polka dots). And instead of traditional Korean bar food (which tastes like stale lint), they had a measuring glass of frosted flakes and rapidly cooling sweet potato tempura. And instead of, you know, being Korean men at a bar, they were an American and Korean sitting on the floor while Siobhain and I laughed at them. We played classic 90's power ballads and Ace of Base, exchanged gifts (I got a ridonkulous Korean pencil case!) and ended up on the roof with an ice cream cake at one in the morning. We sang "Happy Birthday" to Jesus and Mario, Jesus's mother (idk) and Tim reassured us that we had another bottle of chicken (he meant beer) before we passed out at three in the morning.

Christmas morning, Siobhain and I went to McDonald's for breakfast while the boys slept off the night before so we could talk louder than a hushed whisper. We ate and knit and talked for about an hour before the boys woke up and demanded food. We sat around and watched Iron Man before deciding to go to COEX, the largest underground shopping mall in Asia. Because of course, going to one of the largest malls in a very densely populated area on a national holiday is a *brilliant* idea. I did buy a new pair of shoes to replace my dying Chucks, though, so it was a worth while trip.

It was a good Christmas.  Albiet, it was nothing like Christmas back home, but fitting, I think, for my first Christmas on my own.

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