Happy New Years, friends and family! I celebrated the holiday about 14 hours ahead of most of you in the cute little city of Pohang. Following meeting after confusing meeting about academics and logistics, the English Language Teachers -ELTs- headed off for a much deserved break. The college provides a free bus from campus to Pohang, the nearest city. After piling on layers of pants, jackets and accessories I promptly became carsick as the driver blasted the heat and swerved down the small streets into town. After stripping down in the street and taking some deep breaths of fresh air, I was able to look around me and take in the sights. Pohang is a city of lights, and not in the hustle-bustle, always awake way that big cities are - Pohang is, more specifically, a city of lighted decorations. All the trees are entwined with blue or white twinkle lights and the pedestrian walkways are adorned with multicolored arches that remind me of cathedral stained glass windows. It's really quite breathtaking.
The first step was to try to get some money. The ordeal of getting to Pohang on the first day was not only draining emotionally - it emptied my wallet as well. The ATM wouldn't accept my card and just as I was about to try again a middle aged woman came up and-politely?-pushed me out of the way. I say politely because she didn't do it with any menace or rush. It just seemed totally natural and comfortable to her. Pissed, I looked around for support and all I got was an explanation. Korea is still a Confucian country. She is my elder. She gets what she wants. Sweet.
After failing at the bank, we walked along the bright streets of Pohang. There's no trash anywhere- it's kind of unearthly. We peek into shops and I wonder why so many places choose silly anglo-americans to represent beauty. I mean, Korean girls are so amazingly cute but all the faces staring out of the windows look much more like me. The sidewalks are a different story, however. Korean girls turn it out! I mean, seriously, they rock all kinds of fashion that I don't really understand, but looks totally amazing. Even in this dismally, frigid weather, they're sporting little short shorts with leggings underneath and fierce ankle boots while I've expanded to the size of the Michelen man with all the layers I'm wearing. They get total props from me.
All along the pedestrian walkway, little stalls sell fried what's-its and things that look like corn dogs. I stopped when I saw the fried baby silk-worms - how can any fan of Andy Zimmern resist? I bought a dixie cup full of the little bugs and pierced the first body with a toothpick. And it tasted --- exactly as a bug should. Disgusting. I was able to convince two of my friends to join me in the awful experience- an interesting welcome into Korean culture.
Next, we stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts. My roommate, Katie, tried to order a coffee - a simple request. She was met by the servers making a huge x with their arms across their chests, pantomiming to her that Dunkin' Donuts, the store meant to have only two products - coffee and pastries-- was out of one of those very things. We were confused and shocked, but decided that alcohol would be more warming anyways.
So, we moved on to a bar called either Club Beethoven or Beethoven Bar, depending on which neon light you believed, which we discovered was a US army hangout. Apparently, there's an undercurrent of tension between Americans here to teach the Koreans English and those here to do, well, whatever the American army does in Korea. It was awkward- instead of having a friendly "hello" with the only fellow Americans, or white people for that matter, in a pretty big radius, we just kind of ignored each other. The bar was bawdy - the Korean bartenders (all female) were strutting around amongst the army guys, wearing miniskirts and ripped fish nets. The brought over a small notebook, where someone had written in English the night's offerings. They would be giving out free shots at midnight to a few lucky winners who could then choose any bartender, or willing member of the audience, to take a body shot off of. Real classy. We enjoyed the bar's popcorn (apparently the Korean bar snack), braced ourselves with a few drinks, and went back out into the cold.
We decided to try out the most wonderful Korean entertainment - the singing room. It's like karaoke, only a million times better. We walked up into a little building that looked like a brothel - it's walls were painted in pastel pink and lots of little doors with opaque glass windows lined the hallway. We paid to rent a room and TAH-DAH: we were ushered into a room complete with a big screen tv, two microphones, and a catalogue full of enough songs to keep you singing for days. Apparently, Korean teens and young adults (who still live at home until they are married) come to the singing rooms to do more than just sing, but for us, singing was the only attraction. We belted out enough tunes to make us hoarse and almost missed the Korean ball drop.
At nearly a quarter to 12, we ran out onto the street to find the action. There wasn't really any, but we found a small group huddling around a tv. We joined in and rang in the New Year by hugging and shaking hands with the Korean kids around us. It was a nice way to start the year.