Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How We Do Christmas in Korea

It's Christmas Eve in South Korea.

I'm sitting at my desk at school because while we do get Christmas day off, we'll be right back at it on Thursday. At least, from what I've seen and heard, this holiday doesn't seem to be a real big deal in Korea. And being that we are Americans who grew up on a "high" of Christmas spirit starting sometime in mid-November, we're regularly reminding ourselves, "Oh yeah, Christmas is coming."

We keep forgetting that it's Christmas, because none of our familiar symbols are around.
No old friends.
No family.
No Christmas breakfast made by Dad.
No Rocky Mountains.

Bu before I get too mopey, let me say that I am so grateful for this experience in Korea. And we are on this side of the world creating new (and temporary) "normals" to carry us through the holidays.

New "normals" like:
-decorating our small, but cozy apartment
-a teeny plastic tree with ornaments leftover from the last tenants
-listening to YouTube's "Ambient Fireplace with Jazz and Classical Music Favorites" while I'm at work. I highly recommend it. It's got a "real" HD fireplace, people!
-one gift for each other (less than 10,000won or $10)
-Christmas Eve potato soup
-watchin' holiday movies like nobody's business

-and--this has probably been the most fun part of our holiday season--our recent ski trip with new friends

Last weekend, we went with Bob and Trish (and our new friends Ashley and Phillip) to Muju ski resort. It was quite the trip, mostly because it was happening in Korea. Small things become big things when you are waygooks (a.k.a. Korean for "foreigners").

After school on Friday, we took a bus from Cheongju to Yongdong where Phillip and Ashley live. We got settled into a "love motel," which is apparently where you can rent a room for as little as an hour (I'm sure you can see where this is going). But it was dirt cheap and good enough for us!

We went out to eat and had our first jim-dock experience. It's noodles and chicken and vegetables in some kind of dark brown sauce that reminded me of hoisin sauce. Tasty! Then, we camped out in a coffee shop and played a board game called "Kings of Tokyo." It was swell, our girls team, however, was not. We lost.

Here's Bob and Phil being merciless

The next morning, we got up early with cold 711 coffee in-hand to catch another bus. One city bus took us to a bus terminal and then from there we were supposed to catch another bus to the resort. Now, let me take this opportunity to tell you that even finding the right bus and getting on it was an incredible accomplishment, but seamlessly making a second transfer would've been too easy.

This picture is our fearless group looking chipper near the banks of some icy river somewhere in Korea. Do we know where we are going? No. We just walked over here because when we said, "bus-ugh" they pointed this way. 

And this is where we stood until a kind Korea soul waved at us and motioned us in the right direction. Magical, I'm tellin' ya. And for all the sexiness of "world travel," let me tell you that 85% of the time this is what it looks like: standing around in the freezing cold having no idea where to go next.

Gratefully, after four hours of bus travel, confusion, navigating ski/snowboard rentals in Korean, getting a lift to the slopes, and getting dropped off: we made it!

Even Bob's half-naked lady friend

The snow-making machines created this beautiful frost over all the trees. So beautiful.

It really was beautiful. And after a too-long snow sport hiatus for all of us, eventually we remembered how to get down the hill and had a grand 'ol time. We stopped for lunch and would've loved the standard pizza or chili, but we settled for some bulgogi and dock-bokey that wasn't too bad at all. Oh, and they did have churros. Random.

At the end of the day, we did all of our travels in reverse. Oh please, please, hold your applause. No really, this is a huge feat! We felt quite accomplished.

It was at this point, back in Yongdong, that Jeremy and I had our first jimjibang experience. It's like a communal spa (split by men's and women's sides) where everyone is naked and happy. This is a whole 'nother blog for another day. But, it was interesting and felt good after a long day on the slopes.

From here we ate Korean barbecue. It's really good and you cook it yourself (or have Bob do it) and there's several side dishes and fillings that you wrap up in lettuce leaves. 

At one point in the weekend, I looked around me and realized that while it's hard to be away from family during the holidays, this will likely be one of the most memorable Christmas's of my entire life. And that's not too shabby at all.

Merry Christmas, everyone.


Chris said...

Looks like fun! ...Do you think there is an easier way to get to Muju/Deogyu Resort from Cheongju?

Heather said...

Oh, probably. But I am the LAST person in the world to know what that is. My traveling companions are the geniuses. I was just along for the ride.