Korean Final, Chinese Food in Korea, Tapgol Park (탑골 공원), and Jogyesa Temple (조계사) 05/20/19 (NSLI-Y AY)

05/20/19 Monday

:,( Sad Face

It is my last week in South Korea :,(

I would be lying if I said time has gone by so fast because it definitely felt like 9 months but I still cannot believe that I arrived here back in September and now I am going back in just a few days… wowowowow 

Bright and early this Monday morning I awoke to the prospect of taking my Korean final!! I woke up quite early after a long night of studying and continued to study. I decided that grammar would be 헛수고 so instead, I quickly went through the bajillion and one Quizlet sets I have made over the many months–focusing on the ones for our last two textbooks as well as the random ones I made for Topik preparation (I really wanted to show off to my teacher in hopes that my improvement would be noticeable uwu) 

Though I was actually quite confident about this test. There is something to say about having an ‘end’ or ‘end goal’ so even though I am stressed about this final performance, at least it will be the last time! Also, looking back, I care so much about what my teacher thinks about me because I do truly care about her impression of me and I want her to see me taking my studies seriously–I am not just playing around! But I am so much harder on myself than anyone else! And I would literally have to ignore all the months of hard work if I was to say that I have not improved enough. To think that I was barely intermediate when I first arrived and now I can write essays and give presentations, and have conversations on such complex topics. I am proud of myself and I know my teacher is too! I was the underdog of my class~

Anyways, before arriving at the BetterWorld office to take our final test, Josh and I headed to Josh’s Cafe (this cafe will forever be known by this nickname) to pick up some pick-me-ups! Josh opted for coffee while I bought a basil scone.

The test actually went rather smoothly! I felt really good about the writing portion as it was sort of a reflection of our time in Korea which was definitely something I had thought about a lot and I think this was the best OPI I’ve had this whole year! Not just because I would logically be more advanced at this point but because I had more confidence in myself. The reading portion of the exam was a bit tougher to be honest and I did have to rush the ending and did not exactly get to read every single question… There were parts that I was completely lost on but I tried to not have that stump me and frustrate me before time was up. 

After we took our Korean final, we all decided to go out and celebrate the end of the program and classes together. My Korean teacher had planned out a little agenda for our date and what that first consisted of was getting lunch as three hours had now passed and we were all famished. Our teacher took us to one of her favorite Koreanized Chinese restaurants that was a little walk away from the office. It was on the second floor of a rather hidden-away building so I cannot imagine that many people just stumble upon it since the signage too was rather obscure. Though the restaurant was definitely quite full when we walked in so maybe this place was a local secret! If only I could remember what it was called…

For food, I had no idea what anything was on the menu as Chinese food in America is nothing like Chinese food in Korea which I bet is also nothing like actual Chinese food in China so our teacher ended up ordering all her favorites that she knew were good at this particular spot. We ate some sort of pork (?) dish, fried eggplant dish, a shrimp porridge/stew, and dumplings and I really had not eaten anything like any of the dishes in such a long time and everything tasted so delicious–especially the eggplant! (Salivating just at the thought of it!)

Once we finished stuffing our faces so that our bellies were just as full as our minds (minds filled with… knowledge! lol), we went along with our teacher to the 종로구 (Jongno District) from 홍대 which was not too far of a subway ride. We first walked around the less tourist-y neighborhoods as the alleyways had a lot of unique character. Our teacher was showing us all the small shops and stalls and told us that this part of historic Seoul has not changed as much as other places that have raced to modernize especially for tourism.

I took a couple of photos of some of the shops because I found them quite interesting to look at and one of the places we visited was a very small used bookstore. It mostly had Korean books with a few sparse copies of classics in English or Chinese. One of the books that I picked up was basically a guide for how women can be good wives to their husbands… Yup.

From here we walked to Tapgol Park (탑골 공원) which is a small, public park in the area which is famous for a couple historical monuments like this one traditional, colorful pavilion as well as a 10 story buddhist pagoda–which is actually enclosed in a glass structure to protect it. It kind of gives the traditional monument a modern twist on it. We walked around the park with our teacher closely following behind and taking tons of photos of us as a group. An interesting thing I noticed was that the park was mostly full of elderly. Like, there was a group of older men and women sitting in the shade of the pavilion and around the rest of the park too.

Afterwards, we walked from the park to the neighborhood 익선동 which I have been to a couple other times because it was an up and coming area on Instagram due to the architecture in the area is either 한옥 or styles reminiscent of them so photo zones are plentiful. Plus, cute cafes!!!

We walked around the narrow, winding streets of 익선동 and found a cute 호떡 stand that served the pastry commonly eaten in wintertime with ice-cream–a summertime treat, then!) So, we all ordered them and were happy to see that they were shaped like hearts! I gasped! They were delicious and the pairing of the hot honey/sugar flavors with the plain vanilla ice cream was a match made in heaven. On our walk, our teacher also showed us where she used to live as a child but now, her childhood home has been turned into an aesthetic café.

There was also an exhibition for the newest Samsung and for some reason, we went inside and explored all the new functions of the phone (even though our teacher was the only one with any Samsung products at the time.)

Our last stop of the day was walking towards the 인사동 area until we reached one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Seoul: 조계사 (Jogyesa Temple). Our teacher actually considers herself a practicing Buddhist so it was cool being able to ask her questions and look at the temple through her eyes. Also, because I was with her, I felt comfortable following her into the building after taking off our shoes and watching her bow. On the outside, the temple was very beautiful and I could not get over all of the rainbow colored lanterns that made me not want to ever look away.

Eventually Jacquelyn and Josh left us at the temple after saying goodbyes (until the graduation ceremony of course) while I decided to walk with my teacher back to the subway together as we were going to be riding the same line as she also lives near me. Our walk back was actually one of my favorite memories with my Korean teacher (besides our cafe dates) because it felt just so wholesome and we talked about so many subjects and I just felt freer to be myself since I was just with her and no one else.

My teacher took this photo of me. She pointed out this artistic statue of sorts out and said that I should run up to it and pose!~

Today was such a great day with my classmates and my Korean teacher. It made me realize how grateful I am to have had them as a part of my support system while in Korea. I am so happy to have had my 3반 classmates and my Korean teacher ❤ They will always mean a lot to me!

There is a bit more to this day because I had evening plans but since this post is so long already, I am going to continue it in another blog post~ I hope you enjoyed reading this one and until next time~ Thanks!

  • Emma 엠마

Graduation Trip to 경주 (Gyeongju) Pt 1: Rainy Visit to (석굴암 석굴) Seokguram Grotto (05/18/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/18/19 Saturday

How come it’s easier to wake up early in the morning when you are excited? I mean, I am not complaining but I always find myself practically springing up out of my bed when my neurons cannot stop firing with excitement (or nervousness for that matter) but then I’m literally the polar opposite of a morning person on every other day of a mundane week.

Today was an exciting day because it was day 1 of my graduation trip with my NSLI-Y Cohort! We were all a little bit disappointed at first because we would only be going on this trip for one night rather than going for 2박3일 (3 days and 2 nights) due to my class 3반 needing to be back Sunday night in order to take our Korean final Monday morning. And the reasoning behind our disappointment was plainly us wanting to spend more time together–especially as a group which always proves to be more difficult due to scheduling–which I find utterly wholesome. At this point of the year, we had exactly one week left in Korea and we all realized how precious each and every moment we had together truly was. (I am already tearing up just recollecting this trip!!!)

Anyways, on Saturday morning we all met up at the KTX station in 용산 which was luckily directly on my subway line so no need to transfer for me (celebrate the little victories aka having more uninterrupted naptime on the subway). There we embarked on our trip to 경주 (Gyeongju) which I had only read very little about in Korean class and from what I remembered, it was a very historical city seeing that it was the capital of the Silla Kingdom.

For breakfast, 민정쌤 and 소영쌤 prepared us all prepackaged boxed 김밥 (kimbap) in a variety of flavors: beef, tuna, etc and they bestowed the duty of carrying the box onto our lovely friend June. You may be questioning why I feel like this information is pertinent enough to be included in my telling of this trip as it seems like a very miniscule, easily overlooked detail and which, yes, it normally would be however this was not the case today. I had actually been filming us walking to the train platform and boarding the right train car for my 1 second a day video (I will make a separate post on this but it has been uploaded on Youtube already) and this clip included a blurb of June talking to me while holding the box of kimbaps BEFORE she dropped the box.

Seconds before disaster!! 😛

Yes, right before we got on the train, June tripped over herself or something and spilled the contents of the kimbap box on the floor. Luckily, only a few kimbaps exploded and were therefore inedible. So a major tragedy was avoided but Kaitlyn and I (the only ones behind June when this occurred) had to keep ourselves from peeing due to laughing so hard while helping pick everything up. And 민정쌤 of course also had some sassy remarks. But it all turned out okay! And definitely was not foreshadowing for a hectic trip! Not at all!

The train ride on the KTX (My first time riding it!! Next time, I will hopefully take it to Busan!!) took about 2 hours or so. I spent the majority of the time studying for my Korean final (as well as chatting with Kaitlyn, my seat buddy) which was a productive use of my time but it also made me quite anxious as I realized that I would have no time to adequately study during the trip–if I really wanted to enjoy myself with others. This made me worry about the impact this lack of time would have on my test performance. 소영쌤 saw me studying with all my colorful note-taking and praised me for still studying hard despite everything which did make me feel good. I decided to not let my anxieties ruin these final moments with the people I have grown to greatly cherish~

When we made it to the station, we exchanged our fast-moving silver power train for a classic Korean ‘party bus’ decorated with colorful fabrics and tassels and built-in karaoke mic set. For our trip, we would be having our own private bus driver take us to the sights because traveling with so many individuals could prove to be difficult and quite expensive.

Clouds foreshadowing some bad weather ahead…

Even though we had 김밥 for breakfast not too long ago, our first stop once we arrived to 경주 was to get some lunch. We came to a restaurant picked out by the 쌤s and we basically took up one entire half of the restaurant as we all sat at one long table. I sat with Harmony, Addie, and Jenna and we shared our own mini stove which kept our stew warm.

Honestly, I do not remember the name of anything we ate during that meal. There were a lot of side dishes and even this one plate of curious looking round patties of some kind. I cannot remember if they were made out of meat or vegetables… Despite the tastes not being too memorable, I know we devoured everything because we American teens can always eat and on vacation, anyone who is anyone develops a second or even third stomach. Addie, though, definitely fell into a food coma at the restaurant.

Addie down for the count!

 Back on the bus, I sat next to Harmony and with our full bellies, we both fell fast asleep when our heads hit the headrest. The sound of the rain’s pitter patter also did not help as its predictable rhythm lulled us, and many others, to sleep as our bus made its way through the heavily guarded forest and up a mountain towards our first historic site visit: 석굴암 석굴 (Seokguram Grotto).

Seokguram Grotto is an artificial, man-made grotto located on 토함산 (Mt. Toham) that makes up part of the temple complex of 불국사 (Bulguksa Temple) and is famous for being the home of a buddha statue. Getting up to this grotto is actually a little trek from the starting point (where the gate is and a few little shops at the entrance) as you literally do have to climb up the side of the mountain. Unfortunately, we were not able to visit when the weather was equally as nice as the view. Instead, it was practically downpouring! I have not seen it rain so hard like that in a long time. Some of us had brought umbrellas while others were very unprepared. There were other groups of people on the mountain too and they were all wearing colorful ponchos and still hiking up to the top of the mountain. So, we did what the locals do and bought our own ponchos for the day.

Honestly, the weather kind of added to a more mystical feeling or ambience behind the hike. I tried taking some photos of the forest surrounding us and the fog was very intense. I felt like I was walking through a fairytale forest. There were also a lot of colorful lanterns hanging around and they were violently shaking around in the wind because it was not only rainy, but windy too. Umbrellas were almost ripped out of people’s hands. At the top of the mountain was a bit smaller than expected structure in which you could look into to see the famous Buddha statue. And this historical site is considered a UNESCO world heritage site (along with the accompanying temple). Being respectful, I did not take any photos of the actual structure but if you google it, you can find professional shots of what it looks like inside. 

~ We did more this day but this post is already really long and the next few activities on the agenda have a lot of photos I have to go through so I am just gonna separate these posts for now. I hope you enjoyed this little rainy day travel blog post even though I feel like I literally documented nothing… But I promise the next one may be more informative with better (quality) photos as well. My phone was NOT waterproof, okay! Anyways, thanks for reading~

  • Emma 엠마

Nepalese Restaurant & Photo Studio & Black Milk Tea & Live Octopus & Pet Pig, OH MY! (05/11/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/11/19 Saturday

Today was set out to be an exciting day from the start. I would be meeting 지연, 수빈, and 은서 from one of my English mentorship classes from 하나고 in 홍대 for a fun-filled morning/early afternoon. We had been planning this day for the last couple of weeks and I was so excited to finally be able to hang out with them outside of school. The 하나고 students cannot just decide to leave the school when they please–even on the weekends. They have to acquire permission from their homeroom teachers so depending on who you have, some students have a more difficult time leaving the school. I knew of some students who even had to lie about where they were going (Like using church/religious services as an excuse to go to the mall or extending the time a volunteering activity would last in order to get to the movies before having to get back). I was very grateful that we were going to have the opportunity to hang out (and not in an academic setting). I felt like we could be more free and comfortable with each other? And since this was not their allotted time to speak/practice English, we were able to just comfortably speak in Korean to each other. You may think that since English is my native language that I would ALWAYS be more comfortable in speaking English but I find that when other people are comfortable with me, I would rather speak in the same language. So with native Korean speakers, I prefer to speak Korean…even if I do not know how to express myself as well as I would in English. I find that we can all be more comfortable and less awkward.

In the morning, I beat the girls to the meeting spot outside of one of the station exists so I waited until they all arrived. ¾ of us were wearing a similar color of pink which was funny to say the least. It looked as if we coordinated but it was definitely just a coincidence! (Though, of course, 수빈 was wearing all black and more of a street style.)

커플룩 ㅋㅋㅋ

We started the morning off with going to a 노래방 (karaoke room). The place was just opening up when we got there (since most people do not go in the morning/afternoon) so we had to wait in the hallway until they finally prepared a room for us. Usually, you would think that singing in front of newer friends for the first time would be a bit awkward and embarrassing but I was comfortable with all of them so I sang my heart out. (Although… it was super unfair that they were all good at singing. And 지연’s rapping skills popped when we sang the new BTS song.) 

After karaoke, we went over to the photo studio to figure out how long our wait would be so that we could go out for lunch before taking the photos. The place that we went to is quite famous in Korea (토담쓰담 스튜디오) and their pictures can be found all over Instagram. I really love that taking photos professionally is still a part of the modern-day culture here because the same can’t be said about America. Here, it’s common for friends to do photo shoots together and even more common for families and couples to do the same. The photo studio’s walls were nicely lined with hundreds upon hundreds of photos from other shoots–a lot of them were humorous too. Like groups of best friends wearing silly costumes, family photos with funny faces, and even a wedding photo where the groom was the one wearing a veil and holding a bouquet of flowers! We were told to return in an hour or so; therefore, we decided it was as good a time as ever to go have lunch. We originally planned to go to this chicken restaurant that 수빈 was raving about during our last mentorship class together but although we were able to find the location of the place, it seemed closed as there was no one there and all the lights were off…

We ended up wandering around for a bit before deciding to stop and eat at some unique place–something that the girls would definitely not be able to eat at the cafeteria. We opted for a Nepalese restaurant. The interior decorations inside were beautiful and the owners seemed to be in fact from Nepal (or perhaps India as it was a fusion place). We ended up all ordering cups of Mango lassi (cold beverage that is basically a smoothie of mangoes and yogurt!) and chicken, curry, and naan bread to share. It was all so very delicious and not too pricey either (well, for foreign food).

We took a bit longer eating than planned so we had to rush back to the photo studio to not miss our appointment time. As soon as we got there, we were directed to the back and began our photo shoot. It was a lot of fun being able to be silly by using props but we also listened to the photographer that instructed us on how to take cute photos with flowers and such. It was awkward at times, especially when he would give my friends directions for me and then he would be shocked when I would do them immediately after because I understood his request perfectly fine. Besides that, the photos all came out really nicely and I loved the traditional black and white shots the best. Unlike the studio I went with Katie and 서린 back during winter break, we were not given all our photos. We picked the ones we wanted to print and that was it.

After the grueling work that is being a model (just kidding we are far from that level!), we ventured over to a café that was famous for selling black sugar bubble tea which became a hot trend in Korea as of late. The new shop Black Tiger that opened up in 홍대 never does not have a line. And, the line usually wraps around the store and a bit further down the street. It is literally crazy. We went to a smaller café but unfortunately, they were out of the bubble tea until an hour later. Instead, we all ordered black sugar bubble ice cream which honestly might have been better due to the scorching hot weather (Okay, definitely an exaggeration since it was not even summer weather yet.)

We also walked around the streets of 홍대 for a bit so that the girls could buy a cake for a friend’s birthday as well as other street foods that they have been deprived of. I took them to this store (It is one of my secret finds…) that sells macaroons for $1-2 which was a major hit with the girls.

My friends and I said our goodbyes in the early afternoon as they returned to school and I went home to do some studying and get a head start on my work due Monday. For dinner, my host sisters wanted to go out to eat at our favorite seafood restaurant near the apartment but this was no normal dinner. At this dinner, I got to try 산낙지 (live octopus) for the first time ever! Not only that, but my younger sister also had never tried it previously so we had our first time on the same day! Honestly, I thought the octopus would have more of a fishy taste and also a more gelatinous, chewy texture but it really was not bad at all. With the spicy sauce, it tasted pretty good. You just have to get over the part that the tentacles are moving around on your plate while you are trying to eat it. And if you are not good at using chopsticks…well, those little crawlers will truly test your skills because they will suction onto the plate so that it is harder to grasp. I found that my best method was to kind of scoop them up with my chopsticks off the edge of the plate. When I first put it in my mouth, my sister warned that I had to chew a lot…so that I would not choke to death. I chewed that bad boy for a good minute before finally, with my aching jaw, I swallowed it. But again, not bad.

This dinner was also hilarious because along with the delicious 해물파전 (seafood green onion savory ‘pancake’) we had some seafood stew that also had a full live octopus in it (not just the tentacles and it was pink–the head and body at least) but we had the stew on this mini gas stove on our table so eventually it would cook the octopus and all the other seafood that was also in the pot. But at one point, our smart octopus decided to hatch an escape plan and its tentacles began making their way out of the pot and its lid by squeezing itself flat until the tentacles made enough pressure to actually lift the lid and it was oozing out of the pot on the side facing my host mom and she literally screamed!!! She screamed and pulled her hands to her face and pushed back her chair which scratched the floor like nails on a chalkboard. Everyone around the restaurant looked at us and one of the waitresses ran over to us to tend to our runaway food. It was so funny that me and my host sisters could not stop laughing the rest of dinner, our host mom’s shrill voice echoing in my head–at least.

That night, Katie was having a bad day so she wanted to come up to talk with me so she rode the train all the way from her home up to visit me. We went to the convenience store attached to the apartment complex and purchased some snacks (Kinder eggs are a thing again!?) before just chatting under a gazebo in the apartment complex for a little bit before she had to leave to make curfew. Honestly, it was nice that she came all the way to 고양시 to visit me, I was wholeheartedly touched. And honestly, it was just nice to chill and hang outside in the cool weather and goof off. I remember sitting there, in the moment, talking and holding hands with Katie and just wishing that we could stay in that moment forever–with no worries or anxieties from the everyday stressors and the impending goodbyes we would have to face. We got our toys out of the kinder egg and placed them on the ledge of the gazebo and left them there. I wonder if someone found them.

Another funny moment that occurred that night was that Katie and I saw a PIG! It was not exactly a mini pig but the size was much closer to a skinny hog (do you like my pig-describing skills? lol) and it was on a leash being walked on the path back to the lobby of my apartment. The next night at dinner I asked my host mom and sisters about it and they said that it must have a rare sighting of the pet pig that lives a few floor below us. My host sisters admitted to never having seen it before but my host mom showed me photos that she had snuck from her one and only encounter. In Korea, big dogs like huskies and golden retrievers are so rare to see that this pig totally blew my mind but I was all here for it. I still remember my reaction upon seeing it–a mix of wonder and disbelief and I literally stuttered while trying to point it out in the dark to Katie who, at first, thought it was just a fat dog.

Well, and with that, that is all for this blog post. I hope you enjoyed! Quite a long post this one haha 2000+ words! What a packed day~ And a fun one at that. Today was great. Thanks for reading.

  • Emma 엠마

Chinese Dragon Lights at Soldier Field in Chicago {April 27th, 2018}

The Dragon Lights was an exhibition of Chinese lanterns, cultural performances, demonstrations, as well as popular products, handicrafts, and food. I found out that this exhibit was coming to Chicago after being bombarded with SnapChat messages from my fellow StarTalk Chinese classmate, and we immediately decided we had to go!

The Dragon Lights exhibited numerous displays of Chinese lanterns: pandas, koi fishes, dragons, bears, Chinese warriors, families, gates, etc. They were very beautiful and intricate! I had never seen anything like them before! I really can’t do much explaining in this post so please, simply, enjoy these photos:

drag 6

drag 17

Spot the difference!

drag 8

drag 9

drag 12

These dragons were constructed with tiny jars filled with colored liquids!

drag 15

There were also cultural performances scheduled throughout each day; however, it was raining while we were there, so they had to cancel some of the performances. Though, we were able to watch two very interesting showcases. I believe the ones we missed were martial art performances.

p6

Peacock Dance (Chinese Folk Dance)

p2

The dancer was very thin, but she had such defined back and arm muscles! So talented~ (And she must have been so cold being rained on…)

Besides walking around and catching up with my friend Becca, I think the best part of the exhibition were the stalls with Chinese handicrafts and products. Becca and I pulled out our Chinese skills (if we can even say skills) to talk to the vendors.

It started raining a lot more and it got super cold at the end of the night, so we left early to indulge in Chinese food. The best ending to a great day.

Website of the Dragon Lights: http://dragonlightschicago.com/

  • The Dragon Lights exhibition lasted from March 30th to May 6th

Thanks for reading this post! It is quite late (the last month of senior is crazy, okay!) but better late than never? I have also been really sick these past two days (which is why I was able to write up this post XD) but my next post will be about my second NSLI-Y event! I organized a bubble tea social with a group of alumni as well as the Midwest DIR. Stay tuned!~

  • Emma 엠마