Sunday, October 30, 2011

Another Long Weekend!

Well, whaddayaknow! The first weekend of October turned out to be another Korean National Holiday. We didn't know which one and didn't really care; all that mattered is that we had another day off.

So we started things off with a BANG on Friday when we met up with Katie, our friendly, bubbly friend from Wisconsin, for the first time. Turns out subway stations are great to set up first meetings with fellow foreigners, because although they are always packed with people, a quick scan of the place is usually enough to spot the 'one who doesn't belong' (a.k.a. 'the foreigner'), in this case a fair-skinned blonde who was impossible to miss.

My first impression of Katie is that she was quite the social butterfly! Within minutes of meeting with her, she introduced us to a group of awesome seasoned native teachers (and by 'seasoned' I don't mean 'old', but rather that they have lived here for a few years and know their way around). We soon all made our way to a nearby korean barbecue restaurant, where we proceeded to chat the night away over a shared selection of various delicious meat cuts, as though we had all known eachother for years.

Scarfing down on spicy galbi and kimchi must have made us really thirsty (!), so we made our way to a local pub and ordered plenty of soju and beer pitchers, which I would respectfully abstain from, my first soju experience still being way too fresh in my mind. Instead I sipped on water while engaging in random conversation with English speakers from different parts of the world.

It was close to 1:00 am when I convinced Jason to go; he reluctantly walked us to the nearest bus station, hoping the buses were still running at this time of night (at this point we're still terrified of taking a taxi, not knowing how to say our address in Korean). Thankfully, the bus was coming, but we would have to wait 40 minutes. Perfect! That would give us plenty of time to go back to the McDonald's we walked past on our way there! So we grabbed a few burgers and returned home on the alcohol-breath-smelling bus (I honestly don't know how the bus drivers stand it - smells like a** in there!) and went to bed.

The next day I caught up on some housework and school work while Jason nursed a mild hangover. Ahhhh... relax. Sunday's day trip to Everland would come soon enough!

Yongin's Everland Theme Park is the 5th largest in the world, and a mere 45 minutes from our apartment. We had a blast despite the unusually cold temperatures, but would soon discover that hitting up this #1 family attraction on a long weekend was probably not the best idea in the world.

Everland Theme Park in Yongin, Korea

Too many people!

Packed Shuttle Bus

The trusty public transit took us to the bus stop nearest to the theme park, where we transferred, after nearly an hour of waiting in line - and we weren't even there yet - to a PACKED shuttle bus, where we did our best to minimize the shuffling and shifting brought on by the driver's abrupt twists and turns. Ten minutes later we were there, bought our 38,000W tickets, and started our adventure.

Jen standing in front of the Columbus ride
After grabbing some rather gross chicken burgers at a burger joint, we decided that our first destination would be the Columbus ride, a giant rocking boat that would be, according to Jason, an easy start. On a full stomach - why not. I'm really not one for rides, so I reluctantly hopped on, alongside giggly 3 and 4 year olds. My fear of heights soon kicked in and, hiding my face in my hands, bent over screaming the whole time, wishing it would just stop already, I stepped off feeling queasy and swore off all rides for the rest of the day. I wasn't too worried, however, because there would be plenty of things to do: shopping for souvenirs, the white tiger zoo, the cat show (yes, the cat show). I couldn't wait!

As we walked through the park, we tried our luck at an interesting carnival game which consisted of shooting teddy bears with a gun. This turned out to be Jason's only hunting practice this season. We also grabbed some delicious caramel popcorn and some animal ears, which everyone seemed to be wearing.


Then we got in line for the TExpress, the world's biggest wooden coaster and steepest drop. The crowds at this point were getting ridiculous, and we expected to be in line for at least an hour and a half. Looking back on it, I probably could have ventured off on my own at this point, but with the park being enormous and my sense of direction being non existent, I stuck around, hoping it wouldn't be too long.

T-Express from the starting point
At least we didn't totally waste our time in line; I had brought Lonely Planet's guide to Korea, which I nearly read cover to cover, and Jason got started on Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. Three and a half hours later, Jason met me outside of the gate where I waited for him. At this point it was dark, and we had not only missed the cat circus show, but all other attractions (haunted house, tiger zoo, etc.) were sold out. Bummer.

We had supper at the outdoor food court, where we found a place to sit despite the lack of space, thanks to a nice Everland employee who pointed us in the right direction. It was nice to warm up under the heat lamps before heading back to watch the lights parade. It was magical! We left early on the shuttle to avoid the exiting crowd, very satisfied with our theme park adventure that made us feel like kids again!

The holiday Monday proved to be quite uneventful, so we took the opportunity to relax; because any boring day at home is better than any day at work. By the evening, though, we didn't want our day to become a complete waste, so we headed over to the EMart to complete our weekly errands and happened to feel 'adventurous' enough to try the EMart food court (before you judge, note that this does take a little bit of figuring out, and although we'd been meaning to try it for a while, we hadn't yet summoned up the courage).

Korean food courts (like other things Korean...) are not what we are used to. Before going in, we peer through a large display of model dishes (made out of some sort of wax to mimic real food) and choose our meal. Options include everything from fatty/high calorie chinese jajamyeon, spaghetti alfredo, or chicken burgers, to much healthier spicy Korean dishes, fish, soups, and the like. All choices are very affordable and portions are generous.

Jen's pick: pork cutlet with spaghetti and tomato sauce
Although the names are Hangul, the visual gives us an idea of what to expect, and if we're lucky we will have a number assigned to our choice, so we don't have to embarrass ourselves when ordering by butchering the pronunciation. The next step is to take our choice to the cashier and pay. The number on the receipt indicates our turn, and each 'booth' inside the food court displays the numbers for us to know when it's our turn. When our numbers pop up, we make our way to the appropriate booth in exchange for trays that contain our meals.

Jason's pick: Tangyuksuk (sweet and sour pork) with Jajamyeon
Typically drinks are not ordered or provided, but there are water coolers conveniently located in the middle of the food court for all customers to use. It's simply a matter of helping ourselves to a reusable metal cup and returning it in the sanitizer afterwards. Then we return our trays to the proper booth and voilĂ ! We had just enjoyed our first cheap and satisfying Korean food court meal!

It's very convenient when doing our Sunday grocery shopping, so we've returned a few times since, with satisfactory results each time.

Well, that was productive! Yay, long weekends!

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