Thursday, March 18, 2010

제 생일/화이트데이 (My Birthday/White Day)

My birthday was actually over a week ago, but the new job is still sucking endless amounts of my weekday time, so the recap is just coming now.

On March 13th, to most of the modern world, I turned 24. However, every time a Korean person asks my age, my response is qualified by their follow-up question: Korean age or Western age? Korea has a totally different age system than Western countries. Actually I don't know of any other country that calculates age in this peculiar way. I've had numerous Korean friends try to explain it to me several times, and I'm still not sure if I'm 25 or 26 Korean age. It works a little something like this...

So your mother carried you for about 9 months. All that time you were a living creature, so let's just round that up to one year. (Personally I think 9 months to a year is a bit of a stretch, but this seems like the most reasonable part of the equation so I'll let it slide).

Ok, so that means take whatever your Western age is now and add one to it for the year your mother carried you. Alright, makes sense. Here's where things get weird.

Every Korean person turns one year older on Lunar New Year. I don't know why, and I can't seem to figure out if you just get the year from your upcoming birthday early, or if you actually get a whole other year. The former would put me at 25, the latter 26 years old for someone born in 1986. I don't get it, but anyway, it was a great 24th/25th/26th birthday. I had a shindig at my new place, which was nice because it forced me to go out and buy some things to make it more homey.

March 14th is a kind of money-grab holiday in Korea called White Day. You thought Valentine's Day was bad enough at home; Korea has 3 Valentine related holidays! The first is February 14th, still named Valentine's Day, when girls give presents and candy to their boyfriends/husbands. The second is March 14th, White Day, when boys give presents and candy to their girlfriends/wives. The third is April 14th, Black Day, when single people go eat 자짱면 (Chinese black bean noodles) and mourn their singleness... Ouch!

Boyfriend and I had discussed that these holidays are stupid, but he still got me a gorgeous pair of earrings for White Day anyway. He's just that kind of super-lovin' guy!

As of last week yellow dust has plagued Seoul, causing folks to whip out their super-fashionable hospital masks. I actually didn't believe yellow dust was really a dangerous thing until yesterday when the sky was actually a sick, pukey yellow, apocalyptic colour... guess I better head to Family Mart and get myself a mask.


Monday, March 1, 2010

대한민국 만 세! (Long Live Korea!)

Today was Independence Day in Korea, which meant there was no work for me and no school for Boyfriend. Originally we planned to have a picnic in one of Seoul's many parks, assuming there might be some cool events going on as well because of the holiday.

Woke up this morning and of course it was cold, windy, and rainy!

Nothing can stop Boyfriend's unyielding patriotism though, so we packed our picnic and headed out to Seodaemun Independence Park anyway. Seodaemun Independence Park is home to the Seodaemun Prison and Independence Gate. Seodaemun Prison was used by the Japanese occupants to house and torture rebel Korean freedom fighters. Now it's a museum with lots of interactive displays and and a lot of neat stuff. There was face-painting and tons of Korean flags everywhere. There were also a crapload of little mini Koreas and one foreigner (me!). One little girl who was walking behind Boyfriend and I shouted to her mother: "외국인입니다!" (It's a foreigner!). One of the many times I'm glad I understand Korean. Hilarious.

Doing his patriotic duty.

When we finished walking around the complex we came out into a courtyard where they were handing out Korean flags and everyone was shouting "대한민국 만 세!" which Boyfriend explained means "Republic of Korea live for 10 000 years!" Everyone was shouting and waving flags together and we all made a parade down to Independence Gate. At the gate, some little kids in traditional costumes held a gigantic Korean flag and we took a big group picture for the newspapers. When Boyfriend and I were walking away from the crowd, a lady came up and asked Boyfriend if she could take my picture since I was the only foreigner there. Who knows? Maybe you'll see me in the papers tomorrow.

Who brought that waegookin?

By this point there was no way I wanted to eat the picnic outside; it was so wet and cold. So we found a convenience store, bought hot chocolate, and ate our picnic inside along with a family chowing down on some Independence Day ramyeon. Then we went to see "Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief" (you know, just the usual Korean independence celebrations), and now I'm trying to muster the energy to leave my house to get some Chinese fried pork from the place down the street.

Oh yea! Funny language barrier story relating to Independence Day... Yesterday Boyfriend and I were walking and he pointed out a man on a bus-stop ad.

BF: "Do you know who that is, Ash?"
Ashu: "No, I don't. Who is it?"
BF: "Ah, he's a really famous Korean hero because he was a terrorist."
Ashu: "Sorry? He's a terrorist but a hero?"
BF: "Yea, he threw a bomb at the Japanese king during occupation."
Ashu: "Oh, you mean he was a rebel?"
BF: "No, terrorist."
Ashu: "In English we usually say someone who is good is a rebel and a bad person is a terrorist, even if they do the same thing. To Koreans that man is a rebel, to Japanese he's a terrorist."

And if you want to go to Independence Park, take subway line 3 to Dongnimmun Station and you'll come right out into it.