Thursday, February 25, 2016

First Solo Samgyeopsal Experience

   If you have been in Korea for more than like...2 hours undoubtedly you have had samgyeopsal. It doesn't matter where you are in Korea, you can close your eyes, point in a random direction, and find a samgyeopsal restaurant. So this particular occasion was not at all my first experience with the deliciousness that is Korean barbecue.

   If you are not sure what samgyeopsal is do not worry. I had never experienced any Korean food before coming to Korea, but my first meal here was samgyeopsal. It will probably be yours too if you come to Korea. If it isn't, you're doing something wrong! Samgyeopsal is basically the same pork belly cut as bacon (I think). The difference is that bacon is usually processed in some way. Usually it is smoked or marinated first before being sold and cut thin to crisp up well. Samgyeopsal is generally not tampered with, except maybe a little salt, thick cut, and served raw. You also get small side dishes that vary from place to place but generally consist of kimchi, onions in some sort of (AMAZING) vinegar, garlic, lettuce wraps, and other stuff. It is served raw because in front of you in the table is an open grill for you to do all the work yourself. It's part of the experience and sitting there watching and smelling your own meal cook while chatting with friends over a bottle of soju is an amazingly fun time...

   But that is where this gets complicated for me. Samgyeopsal consumption is a very social affair. I am not just saying that either. As you may well know I usually prefer to be alone a lot. Well, that's my story anyways. Point is I eat alone, shop alone, live alone, travel alone, and do everything on my own. I also happen to love samgyeopsal. However, to Koreans, these two things do not compute. It is seen as really weird to eat samgyeopsal alone. As I said before it is a very social event. It is so weird that I have been turned away from restaurants because I wanted to eat alone. I was really frustrated, I have no choice but to eat alone, and because of that I have been eating the same things for 6 months unless I cook which is just too expensive to do every day. (I like cooking though)

   I had an idea though that some restaurants weren't exactly opposed to me eating alone but they thought I wanted a meal for half price. (Many didn't care what I was paying though, I was alone, conversation over, come back when you have a friend with you.) But, not knowing how to say what I wanted to say, that I wanted the normal order for 2 even though I am alone, I was turned away at the door.

   A couple of days ago though I got a new mentor teacher. I couldn't ask my old mentor teacher about this for... reasons. But I went to lunch with my new mentor teacher and asked her if she could ask what I couldn't. That I really wanted to come back and eat samgyeopsal alone but I am fine with paying, and eating, for two. Portions for 2 are pretty small, the picture above is an order for 2. The idea is, you have a bunch of side dishes but, sorry Korea, I don't like all the side dishes. (Sorry!) Anyways she was kind enough to ask and she found me two restaurants that agreed to serve me alone! After 6 months FINALLY I managed to get my point across.

   So tonight was my first experience. I went into the restaurant and ordered without a hitch! It was awkward though, the other customers were looking at me like I had come from Mars, and even the staff seemed to be a little amused that I was serious about eating alone. I could imagine what they thought. "Does this foreigner even know how to eat Korean dishes correctly?" "What a sad sap." etc. I had the feeling I had a lot to prove.

   A lot to prove... When I left my apartment I took with me 20,000won in cash and figured that should more than cover it. I seriously underestimated my ability to eat however (got rice and another single order! Happy tummy for sure.) and samgyeopsal is not at all a cheap meal since it is meant to be eaten with 2 or more people splitting the cost. "No big deal," I thought, "I'll just use my ca-" I had forgotten my card. Imagine... these people really didn't have to let me into their restaurant alone. They don't know me and they don't know if I can even handle myself in a respectful manner. Already it was kind of weird what I was doing and now I was going to be short on cash because I forgot my card at home. How much of their fears would I be proving correct if that had happened? So I did something I never do and used my U.S. card. I had no idea if it would go through either. It did, thankfully, but now I just wonder how much this meal is going to cost me after my greedy ass bank finds out I used my card.

Whatever, crisis averted!

Sorry guys this post is really poorly written. I never really write these posts to win any literary awards but I am generally a better writer than this. Not sure why I couldn't get what I wanted out of my head correctly. Perhaps my brain is just too overloaded with amazing samgyeopsal right now.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Land of Six Seasons

   It is raining a lot here. Since the other night it has been raining almost non stop. I love rain. The sound that lulls me to sleep, the reflections that make ugly black roads look like rivers of color, the smell that wafts in through an open window. For some it is a time of melancholy but I can't really agree with that.

   It is also getting warmer. It is still cold, and with rain on top of that it feels even colder. Nevertheless it is slowly warming up. All signs seem to point towards spring at long last. I welcome spring without reservation but the fact that it is getting warmer has me a little on edge. True, I don't exactly like the cold much either but... well let me explain.

   I was talking with my mom some days ago and I grudgingly dubbed Korea as "The Land of Six Seasons." See, Korea has spring just like any other part of the world. Rain here and there, mild weather, blossoming plants, and so on. It also has summer just like any other place does... for a while anyway. That seems to give way to what I like to call, "Satan has just left hell to melt your face off" summer. Summer in full bloom in this country is no joke. That too fades away slowly, too slowly, into fall. Fall with it's many colors and steadily dropping temperatures. Steadily they drop until you are now upon winter. However, unlike other countries Korea does not just stop at winter. Oh no, instead Korea seems to want to compete for the title of "Coldest Place on Earth." The contest gets so intense that it enters into a completely new season. This new tier of winter is so cold that you will be walking to work and see snowmen huddled around a fire, each of them talking about how they should probably get inside because they can't afford another sick day at work...

So I have dubbed Korea the Land of Six Seasons.

   I have only been in this country for six months but I feel I have experienced a lot. I have read, and heard, a lot of my peers' thoughts on their experience thus far in Korea, and I think the overwhelming consensus is that this time has been a time of personal growth for them. I think I can agree with that. For some this was the first time away from Mom and Dad, or the first time they had to cook for themselves, or pay their own bills. For me that was not the case but personal growth has been a thing all the same.

   That is true for anything really. All of our experiences inevitably lead to growth in some way. But I have started to look at the paths of some of my peers from my past and found that not only have our lives taken different directions, but as of right now at least, they are not even anywhere close. Those who were closest to me couldn't be further away and that has nothing to do with physical distance.

   For where I grew up, that is really saying something. In my hometown it is not uncommon for generation upon generation to stay stuck in that same dusty, boring town. For some they stay by choice but others not so much. So many people from there aspire to stay there doing the same things as their fathers and their fathers before them never breaking the cycle. There is nothing wrong with that per se. For some that is enough in life but for me it never has been.

   I am a foreigner in this country and am constantly reminded of that. Sometimes in subtle ways, other times in more blatant ways. When I look back at my hometown, and all the people in it, I feel like I would be just as much a foreigner there too. The experiences I have had, not only since I moved from there, but also since coming to Korea, are experiences that are just absolutely unrelatable, foreign, to what is going on back in my hometown. I don't understand it, I couldn't imagine a life of cyclical redundancy (10 points if you get that without using Google) the likes of which I felt were guaranteed by staying in my hometown. I don't pretend that my life is any better than that of my peers who stayed after high school, but we are not anything alike any longer. Not even close.

   But now I am a foreigner twofold. I think the word "foreigner" gets a negative connotation attached to it but I don't feel that way. True, there are some inherently negative aspects that come with the label, but I see those more as opportunities for adventure. So I am a foreigner both by definition and by ambiguity if you will. Yet here I stand feeling all the more fulfilled because of it. For me personal growth certainly has come from this. I have grown in so many ways and that has put a lot of distance between who I was and who I am.