Posts Tagged ‘Korea-isms’

Not really. I had such a great year teaching, traveling and having fun in Korea. I didn’t leave my heart behind completely, but it feels like something’s been missing since I left. Unlike many of my friends who went straight home after finishing their contracts, I decided to extend my time abroad and stay in the Philippines. I haven’t been home in over a year now, but I don’t feel ready to go back quite yet.

I’ve been thinking about Korea a lot lately – wondering at odd hours of the day what my friends must be doing (deskwarming, hanging out downtown, or drinking in any combination). Wondering if my students miss me or if their beloved Maria Teacher has been replaced ㅠ_ㅠ (I hope not!). Wondering what new cosmetics must be out. I could go on. Instead, I’ll make a list of things I miss from my life in the 대한민국.

Korea Miss List:

  • 제 친구들 – My friends!! I met so many great people and I miss seeing their goofy, drunken faces. Just kidding, we weren’t always drunk, right?
  • My co-teacher – She is such a great person. I miss her! Seriously, I was crying on the bus ride to the airport after she dropped me off ㅜ_ㅜ.
  • My students – I loved being a teacher. Not trying to gloss over the stress and frustration I often felt while teaching in Korea. But, my experience was overwhelmingly positive and most of that is thanks to my students.
  • Foods – Let me make a brief list: kimchi, samgyeopsal, samgyetang, kimchi jjiggae, doenjang jjiggae, Korean wings and fried chicken, bibimbap, freakin banchan, kimbap, rice cakes, ddoekbokki, street snacks
  • Egg Tarts – Not what Korea is famous for, but I always used to hang out at the egg tarts place with my pals after dinner.
  • Shopping – Because let’s face it, where did half of my salary go every month.
  • Cosmetics – There are so many and they’re so cheap! I’m also obsessed with cosmetics and Korea just made it worse.
  • K-pop – The soundtrack of my life in Korea. What’s new nowadays??
  • K-dramas – DUDE what’s new nowadays??
  • Nature – Never thought I’d say it. I kind of like nature now thanks to Korea.
  • 4 Seasons – I think it’s a nice concept.
  • Internet – I miss the high-speed internet!
  • Mobility – It’s pretty easy to travel in Korea. I can’t travel as easily here in the Philippines so I feel very limited.
  • Hair salons – I need a trim! I miss Ji-won at Serrano!
  • Korean – I miss hearing Korean! I feel like following around the Korean students I see here. I know, that is just creepy. I won’t do it 😛
  • Traveling – There was always somewhere new to see or return trips to Seoul or Busan. I felt like I could do anything I wanted at any moment.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things. I’m so glad that I took a chance and went to Korea. I learned so much and I have lots of great memories and stories to share with everyone when I finally return home.

Read Full Post »

Shots Shots Shots

This song always plays here in Korea. Doesn’t matter where you are. Except, a lot of people in Korea think it refers to gun shots and will make a gun-shooting gesture with their hands. PEW PEW!

Actually, the song refers to drinking shots of alcohol, which Koreans should be familiar with, if you know what I mean. According to a recent article, people in Korea consumed an average of 12.5+ liters per person between 2002-2005.

That’s like a lot of soju and maekju! All I have to say is, I know I’ve had my share of alcohol this past year.

Read Full Post »

Seaweed Soup

Have you eaten seaweed soup?

In Korea, this is a common question to ask someone on their birthday. 미역국 miyuk guk, or seaweed soup, is considered a nutritious food, particularly for women that have recently given birth. Korean women ‘take a rest’ (or sanhoo jori) for one month after giving birth.  During this time, new mothers eat the soup to help replenish their system and regenerate the blood that they’ve lost.

To commemorate their child’s birth, mothers usually prepare seaweed soup on their son or daughter’s birthdays. Though, it’s not only eaten on one’s birthday; we usually have seaweed soup during lunch at school. So on the days that it’s served for lunch, students who happen to have their birthdays on that day will say, “the school is wishing me a happy birthday by serving seaweed soup!”

Read Full Post »

We learned about emoticons in Korean class today! Commonly used emoticons in the US are  🙂  😦  😀  😛  :]  :\  and so on. My Korean teacher commented that our emoticons focus on the shape of the mouth while Korean emoticons focus on the shape of the eyes. (Also, our emoticons are usually sideways!)

For example, -_-  ^-^  ㅇ_ㅇ ㅠ-ㅠ =ㅅ=.

Here are a list of emoticons from today’s handout (credit to my Korean teacher):

  1. 사람 얼굴 (person face)
    기본형 (basic form):  -_-   ㅡㅡ
    응용 (application) a little sullen feeling:  -____-    -.-    ㅡ.ㅡ    -ㅅ-    -ㅂ-    -ㅛ-    =_=….
    a vacant look:  -ㅁ-    -0-    -ㅇ-    ㅇㅁㅇ
  2. 읏는 얼굴 (smiley)
    기본형 (basic form):  ^^    ^-^    ^_^
    응용 (application):  ^ㅁ^    ^ㅅ^    ^ㅂ^    ^ㅛ^    ^0^    ^ㅇ^    🐱    ^-^*….
  3. 우는 얼굴 (crying face)
    기본형 (basic form):  ;ㅅ;    ㅠ ㅠ    ㅜ ㅜ
    응용 (application):  ;ㅁ;    ;ㅇ;    ;0;    ;ㅈ;    ;ㅂ;    ;ㅛ;    ;ㅍ;    iㅁi    iㅇi    iㅂi    ㅠ_ㅠ    ㅜ_ㅜ….
  4. 당황, 황당 (to be embarrassed, flustered, taken aback)
    기본형 (basic form):  -_-;
    응용 (application):  ㅡ_ㅡ;;;;;;;    ㅡ_-    -ㅁ-;    =ㅁ=;    -ㅅ-;    -ㅂ-;    ^^;;….
  5. 빛나는 눈 (shining eyes) – 관심 (interest)
    기본형 (basic form):  +_+
    응용 (application):  +ㅁ+    +_+    +ㅃ+    +ㅂ+    *_*    *ㅁ*….
  6. 기타 (others)
    춤 (dance):  ~(ㅇㅅㅇ~)(~ㅇㅅㅇ)~    ~(-ㅅ-~)(~-ㅅ-)~
    어지럽다 (dizzy):  @_@
    돈이 좋아! (like money):  $_$
    안녕? (Hi):  ㅇㅅㅇ/    =ㅁ=/    =ㅅ=/….
    안녕?  절 (Hi or deep bow):  (- -)(_ _) “꾸벅” (“nod”)
    (난처해서) 머리를 긁다 (scratch one’s head):  -_-    -_-)….
    욕 (fuck;;;;;):  ㅗ    凸    昌    晶    -_-ㅗ

It took me forever to type this ㅠ_ㅠ! Hope you all find it useful *^^Y (supposed to be peace sign)!

Read Full Post »

As most of you living in Korea may already know, scooter deliverymen (and the occasional deliverywomen) drive like rebels without a cause. They ignore every traffic law as they drive forwards, backwards and diagonal all over the streets and sidewalks. I must admit, the delivery service in Korea is excellent. It’s very popular because it’s fast, convenient and free (and there aren’t any drive-thrus). However, the delivery scooters appear out of nowhere and nearly take me out every time they pass. Today, one man came very close to it.

sidewalk AKA the 'scooter lane'

I was walking down the street to go the gym right after school. I turned the corner and suddenly saw a scooter driving straight at me. He was still far enough away for me to move out of the way, so I jumped back onto the other side of the corner. But, it was too late. The deliveryman tried to swerve out of the way but there was nowhere else for him to go because there were students on the corner waiting for the light to change. So, he fell off the scooter and rolled on the ground while the scooter skid across the sidewalk straight at me. Luckily I was able to dodge it, but it was a close call. I managed to dodge the scooter twice!

The driver got up with a strained expression on his face as he rubbed the pain out of his hands and legs. I just stood there, shell-shocked and speechless because I didn’t know how to express myself in Korean. He picked up the scooter, which was a bit damaged after it fell on the ground and asked me “괜찮아요?”. Then my students came rushing over to see what happened. They looked at me with eyes full of concern, “TEACHER!! Are you okay??”

I told my students that I was fine. I apologized and bowed to the driver because I felt a little bit responsible for his accident. I picked up his helmet for him and apologized one more time before he got back on the scooter and we parted ways.

Today’s Lesson:

Scooter deliverymen are reckless and dangerous. They need to slow down. Food can wait. Life is more valuable than a couple minutes of spared time.

Read Full Post »

As a Southern Californian, I’m not accustomed to (reliable) public transport. Actually, I’m not accustomed to riding in something other than a car. One of the biggest changes for me was learning how to use public transportation and how to navigate it in Korean. My descriptions are overall pretty positive because I think that public transportation in Korea is relatively convenient and reliable. But I’ve experienced problems, as well.
  • City Buses – I have to admit, the first time I got onto the bus I was freakin scared. The bus starts moving before you even get on. I think the average time the bus stops at each stop is between 1-2 seconds. So once you’re on, brace yourself! It took me a while to get on the bus again because I didn’t want to fall on my ass. But, the buses are really convenient since there are only 2 subway lines in Daegu so they don’t cover many areas. They come about every 12-15 minutes. Also, it’s super easy to sleep on the bus. Somehow people here (myself included) wake up in time to catch their stop.


  • They usually announce the name of the stop in Korean and in English. FYI: This stop – it means the stop coming up. Next stop – it means two stops away.
  • In Seoul, you have to scan your card before you get off because it calculates the distance. Not the case in Daegu.
    UPDATE: As of February 2011, buses in Daegu now have card scanners for transfers.
  • Transfers are free! If you transfer between any combination of subway lines or buses within 1 hour (up to 3 transfers), then it will only charge you once. Unless you’re coming back the opposite way on the same line/bus. It’ll charge you again.
  • Intercity Buses – These buses make traveling in Korea that much easier. Most foreigners in Korea don’t own a vehicle, so taking the bus is a good option. In the major cities, there are buses that go everywhere. Some smaller cities aren’t accessible by train and sometimes the bus takes the same amount of time as the train to get somewhere. There are plenty of times to choose from and it’s easy to show up at the bus station to buy tickets on the same day you plan on traveling (unless it’s during a holiday). Bus tickets are pretty affordable. The price depends on the destination. It costs about 4,000won to get from Daegu to Gyeongju, but it costs about 12,000won to go to Jeonju and 23,800won to go to Seongnam.
  • Airport Buses – In Daegu, there are buses that go straight to Incheon, Gimpo and Gimhae airports. The bus drops off passengers right in front of the Departures terminal. It’s much more convenient than taking the train since the train stations are far from the airport. It’s also cheaper to take the airport bus than buying a train ticket. They load luggage on the bottom so you have plenty of room on the bus. Also, seats are reserved. Buying tickets in advance is highly recommended (up to 1 week in advance). The only downside is that the last bus going to Incheon leaves around 3pm, which isn’t very late.
  • Subways – Riding the subway makes me feel like a true urbanite. The subways in Daegu, Seoul, and Daejeon are relatively new, clean, reliable, and pretty speedy. I feel like the subway in Busan is slightly older and slower. But places are more spaced out in Busan so that could be the reason it feels slow.

Daegu's 2 lines

  • Navigating the subway system in Seoul is kind of a headache. I recommend learning how to use the subway map on your cell phone, or if you have an iPhone/iPod, download an app called Jihachul (only in Korean) that relieves you of the hassle of having to navigate the best route. Also, if you are telling someone what stop you need to go to, say it and spell it right!! Saying the line number and what exit to meet at are also very helpful.

    Seoul's bajillion lines


  • 무궁화 (slow train) – We like to call it the ‘slow train’ because it’s much, much slower than the KTX and it takes a windy route that stops every 10-15 minutes. It travels so slowly, I feel like I could drive faster in reverse. It also plays the “We will be arriving in _____” music really loudly. I took it twice to try to save money. Never again. I had to take it like 3 more times since other trains were sold out. Never say never.
  • KTX – By far, the best way to get from Daegu to Seoul. The KTX is fast, smooth, and usually on time. I’ve missed the train twice because they’re so on time (and I’m not). KTX is the most expensive form of public transportation, costs twice as much as the slow train, but it’s worth it for those long trips from Seoul to Busan.
  • KTX 1st Class – Costs 15,000won more than a standard ticket for a little more leg room and a little more silence.

Some useful tips:

  • Buy tickets early. Especially for the trains and airport buses. Especially during weekends and especially during holidays.
  • Plan on being there early. You might have trouble finding the bus or train or you might have a really slow cab driver. Things happen!
  • Discounts. Find 3 friends and buy the family seating tickets on the KTX. Even ifyou can only find 2 friends, it’s still cheaper for 3 people to buy family seating than to buy their own individual tickets. Family seating sells out earlier so plan accordingly.
  • Get a transit card. It beats having to buy a single ticket coin every time or digging for cheon won and some loose change. Each city has its own transit card that also provides a discount on the bus and subway. 
  • Check the websites. You can look for trains, intercity buses and city bus routes, etc. The info is out there somewhere! 
  • Have a map handy. Or at least try to memorize which direction you should be taking on the bus or subway.



  • Crowded. During rush hour, buses and subways get crazy packed. The pushing doesn’t help either.
  • Bad timing. I seem to have this problem when I’m in a hurry (Murphy’s Law??). Just missing the bus, subway, or train is the absolute worst.
  • It takes long. Sometimes the bus or subway just doesn’t cut it. Driving might be faster in some cases, when the roads aren’t too jammed. There are always taxis around.

I have to admit that recently I’ve been getting frustrated with the public transportation system. Having to wait so long for the bus (especially the express bus) I feel like I waste a lot of time just waiting. Even though I think public transportation is usually very good, I’d prefer to drive or at least have it as an option.

Read Full Post »


Of all the things that bother me about Korea, the number one thing has to be the unpredictable, slow-paced way that people walk.

Keep Left - yeah that campaign was a major fail

Sometimes walking downtown feels like I’m at the club trying to make my way through the sea of people. On weekends and especially at night there are so many people out, especially the damn couples. I enjoy a relaxing stroll once in a while, but most of the time I have somewhere to go. Maybe it’s more of an American mentality to want to get from point A to point B in the fastest way possible. If so, this is one difference I have a hard time dealing with.

And add umbrellas now that it’s raining… a;lskdjfla;ksdjfl;akdjsf

Read Full Post »

Thanks to my fellow English teacher friends for sharing your honest perspectives. Cheers to our own unique blend of Korea! This post is for all of you English teachers out there!


There’s a special kind of tea called omija cha, or five flavor tea, that is known for its unique blend of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent flavors. I really like omija because of its sweetness, sourness, bitterness and tart-ness. It’s almost like pomegranate juice, except all the flavors kind of hit you at the same time. And that’s actually what makes the tea so special.

oh me jaw

Why am I writing about omija tea? I think it’s a good way to describe what Korea has been like for many of us English teachers. A strange mixture of sweet, sour, bitter, and even pungent experiences that come at us all at once. This is something I’ll to refer to as the Five Flavors of Korea. I know there are a myriad of “flavors” (good and bad) in Korea, but just go with my little omija metaphor! I asked some of my English teacher friends to describe their experiences in Korea. Everyone had a different response. Many described their experiences as sweet or bitter, some sour and some even said pungent.

  • Sweet
    Most of my blog posts are about the sweet side of living in Korea. I was fortunate to have been served a sweet blend of omija tea in Korea. I love my school and my co-teacher. My administrator is very generous and all my co-teachers are very good. Even my landlord and landlady are very nice. I don’t have much to complain about to be honest and I feel a bit guilty sometimes when I know some people have worse situations.
    A fellow teacher said, “I was prepared for the culture, as I grew up around it. Moreover, I can describe it as sweet, because after overcoming the many obstacles here, I really feel a sense of strong satisfaction”
  • Bitter
    As one of my friends describes his/her experience, “It’s like experiencing the good and the bad, but having the bad things outweigh the good. Although bitter is something not so horrible, it stills leave this bad taste in your mouth.” Not palatable at all.
  • Pungent
    Another friend describes the transition as very sharp and drastic, like a “crash landing.” “Korea is in the far east! Meaning its friggin far from home!!!! Not only distance wise but also cultural wise! I think I had major culture shock in the beginning! I think my advice would be not to do too much research. I over researched and thus had expectations and thought I knew what I was going to get! Nothing panned out as I had imagined it! Whereas when I worked and traveled in England for a year I had very few expectations thus fewer disappointments! Korea is like a crash landing. It’s rough and wild and completely disorientating, but if you can make it through the impact and find your way through the rubble I think you will be fine! And last, there is a lingering odor of sewage in some parts of town.” How pungent!
  • Sweet-n-Sour
    “Everyday there is something that goes wrong. Or something that is a pain in the ass. Or something that I don’t like. Some days I want to cry and call my mommy.”
    “Then there are days where I literally want to skip to work. Where everything is exciting and new. Where I just want to dance through the streets and smile at every ajumma and ajosshi”
    “Anyway, the experience has been an overall pleasant one with some bumps. I think what it is, is that if you keep an open mind, you’ll have fun. If you’re set in your ways and want the world to change for you, then you’re going to experience problems.”
  • Bittersweet
    “Things are getting easier, but living in a country like Korea is never easy”
    “I love it here! I love challenging myself! And I am having such a great time being here and experiencing everything new! Even teaching, it’s much better than I imagined it would be! I love it here, but the bitter sweet part is that I miss my family and friends so much! On one hand I am sooo happy, if it wasn’t for the missing everyone factor! that’s the hardest part!”

Living in Korea is like drinking omija cha, it’s hard to put a finger on its “flavor”. Is it sweet? Bitter? Good or bad? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell! So we often find ourselves frustrated and confused. Or sometimes it’s hard to decipher our feelings because they change so fast. One moment everything’s as sweet as pie and the next, sour lemons. Wae, omija/Korea??

Or maybe it’s because the flavors seem to blend together. Things aren’t simply sweet, sour or bitter just like things aren’t simply good or bad. It’s everything at the same time! Good and bad and “so-so”. With some input from my English teacher friends, here are five things we’ve learned and observed about living in Korea:

  1. Things will not always be clear-cut. There are times you’ll feel unsure and uncertain. At some point, you’ll feel like that all the time.
  2. Things will not be what you expect. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Definitely keeps you on your toes.
  3. You’re not alone! Use your seonsaengnim network – foreigners and locals. Help each other out.
  4. No matter what people tell you about their experiences, you really won’t know until you get here.
  5. And, every day is a different day. To put a little spin on a classic quote, “Korea is like omija cha; you never know what you’re gonna get.”

We all get served a different mix of this blend. Some have it more bitter and some have it more sweet, but it’s all the same Korea. That’s the good and the dark side of it all. In the end, all I can say is…

Korea is definitely a unique blend

This post is my way of coping with the different facets of living and working in Korea. It was originally a post about how grateful I am to be at my school but how unfair it is that some people are placed in really bad situations. But, it slowly transitioned into a different kind of post. During the process of writing, I realized how much we have in common as English teachers despite how different our experiences have been. We’re all in it together – swirling in the cup of omija cha that is Korea.

Read Full Post »

Food Part 2

Okay here are another bunch of pictures of some of the stuff I’ve been eating. Hope you enjoy!

Kkultarae –  This was a dessert served to Korean kings back in the day. It’s made of honey and malt. It looks really interesting, almost like a cocoon because the honey is stretched into long, thin, white strands and wrapped around crushed peanuts and walnuts. It’s usually kept in the refrigerator to keep cool. I brought some back for the teachers at my school. They really appreciated it!

Oh and for some reason, the guys that make kkultarae on the street are really lively. They can speak English and Japanese, maybe even Chinese. They have chants and entertain the crowd while they make desserts. Check out the video I found on youtube. Not my video, okay! Some other person from California.

Sweet, crunchy, and chewy!

Street food – not sure what it’s called, I’ll update after I find out. Got this one downtown since my friend was craving one. Costs 700원 about 50-60 cents. It’s a hot dog on a stick dipped in seasoned batter then fried. Pretty good snack.

The corndog's cousin. Or as Peter called it, a "battered sausage" hmm not sure about that one...

English teachers’ dinner – we had bulgogi somewhere near school. VP paid for all of us. Yeeeahh free dinners are the best!

Bulgogi mmm

Rice mmm

Costco -Yes, there’s a Costco in Daegu! Tempted to get the “Triple Threat” but I wasn’t that hungry. So I tried the Bulgogi Pizza and the churro. Pizza was pretty good but the churro didn’t have enough sugar 😦 sad!

Half-eaten Bulgogi Pizza. I almost didn't take a picture. I interrupted my meal just to take a picture for this blog, gosh.

Needs more sugar!

Dog soup – Yes, I ate dog, don’t judge me! Not all Koreans like dog or have even eaten dog. But, it is still a common enough dish that it is served in some Korean restaurants. The meat is sliced into small, thin pieces like pork or beef and it’s cooked in a sort of stew. The meat comes from dogs raised for their meat, not just any dog off the street. It didn’t really phase me that I was eating dog because it didn’t taste strange. It tasted like MEAT. Therefore, I enjoyed my meal.  (I know some of you must hate me now!) 😀

Dog soup

woof! lol see it's good! I ate the whole thing!

Pizza – I ordered a pizza just to try it out. Okay, that makes it sound like I ordered it over the phone. I walked to the pizza store and ordered it there, then walked home with it. I got a cheese pizza but when I opened it, I realized it was a cheese and corn pizza. Not what I expected but it tasted good so I didn’t mind!

Deluxe Cheese Pizza + Corn

Shabu Shabu – took my co-teacher out to eat since I got my paycheck that day! I also got my cell phone that day!

Shabu shabu

18 번완당집 – In the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) Square in Busan. My co-teacher recommended this restaurant, which specializes in 완당 wandang. Wandang is like the more commonly known wonton soup. I also got the 유부초밥 vinegar rice in bean curd wrapper, kind of like inari. The food was great and prices were good! 5,000원 for the 완당 + 면 and 3,000원 for the 유부초밥. The restaurant makes all the 완당 fresh. So fresh you can watch them make it right there next to the cash register!

완당+면 wandang and noodles

Half-eaten again! 유부초밥

삼겹살 – Samgyeopsal (literally means three fold flesh) is sliced pork belly.. I think. My school administrator took me to dinner to try some samgyeopsal and have some beer. Then his wife and daughter met us there and we ate some more. Ahh, this is the life!

삼겹살 kinda looks like bacon. No wonder I liked it!

Gorilla Burger – Went back to Gorilla Burger for some lunch on my day off with my friend, Bethany. Last time, I had a hot dog so this time I tried a burger and the chili cheese fries. I got the Oasis Burger: fried egg, hash brown, bacon, and of course a beef patty. Sounds good right??

Chili cheese fries

Oasis Burger > Sausage McMuffin

Should be called Brunch Burger haha

Bethany got the Classic Burger.

TGI Friday’s – I know, I know… Friday’s in Korea of all things to eat? I should be sick of Fridays by now after going there for EVERYONE’S birthdays and for happy hour and because it’s the only place open in La Jolla after 10pm. But, the food here is actually pretty good! Costs more than back home, but not that much more expensive after you add tax and tip. And the Friday’s in Korea is the only place I’ve been to that charges tax extra. At least they have an appetizer, main course, dessert and drink set menu for 17,000원.

TGI Friday's in Daegu >x100 TGI Friday's in La Jolla

Read Full Post »