While many stores are decorated, it still doesn't really feel like Christmas. There's not really any lights outside, and it's only snowed really once in December. Although that day was beautiful-- it snowed all day and most of the night; big fat flakes covering everything. Jon and I walked around in it, trying to go get some cocoa in the University area. Unfortunately, the snow-removal system (assuming there is one) hadn't kicked in, and the roads were terrible. Plus, there were no taxis to be had. So, we walked to a nearby coffee shop and, the hems of our pants covered in snow and my feet freezing in my clogs, we finally got our cocoa.
That was the first Friday in December. That weekend, we went up to Seoul for some Christmas shopping and Christmas spirit. From our experience of the roads the night before, we decided on the train Saturday morning. It was a beautiful train ride. Most of the countryside was still covered in snow, the fields white with snow-covered hay bales and temples sticking up from the outlines of snowy hills. The train snaked through the mountains and over partially-frozen rivers spotted with birds in mid-migration.
However, the snow had melted by the time we got to Seoul. There, it was just cold. Right next to the station was a huge electronics store, where we went to browse the camera supplies (for me) and iPod accessories (for Jon). I came really close to buying a camera lens, since they were much cheaper than I have found them, but I decided I should be saving money for Christmas presents and our upcoming trip to Thailand (!!). But still, the vendors let my try out some lenses on my camera body, and that was pretty fun and tempting... :)
After some more browsing, we headed to the hostel we had booked online. Although the directions were a little confusing on paper (walk past such-and-such store, turn behind this other store...), they made perfect sense once we got off the subway. The hostel, called Golden Pond Hostel, is a very cute, tiny hostel in an area near one of the many universities in Seoul. There were plenty of restaurants and shops nearby, and it was only a few blocks from the subway. The woman who runs it speaks very good English, and was friendly. We didn't spend much time there, though-- just dropped off our things and left to venture towards Insa-dong.
Insa-dong is my favorite part of Seoul. For those of you familiar with Burlington, VT, it's like an even-cooler Church street. For everyone else, it's a neighborhood built around a street that closes to cars during the day and evening. Many shops sell traditional Korean crafts and artwork (so can sometimes be a bit touristy), but it's also really artsy and has galleries, cafes and teahouses, and a myriad of antiques dealers with some pretty fascinating artifacts. I found some Mexican pesos from the 1800s (nope, sorry, didn't buy them....this time. I have no idea how much they cost), along with the more common old scroll paintings, buddhist statues, wooden carvings and ancient-looking books.
The walk to Insa-dong took only about 20 minutes, but it was freeeeeezing. Maybe we should've taken the subway. It was late afternoon by the time we got there, and the sun was setting. We wandered for a few hours, buying Christmas presents for our families. When we got hungry, we went to this Indian place we had seen on the second floor of one of the buildings, but when we got there, I started to think better of it. First, it didn't smell like Indian food. This is not a good sign, since Indian food had such a strong and unique smell that permeates everything--when I cook Indian, the apartment smells like it for days. Second, the menu was quite short, and included mostly samosas and drinks, with only 2 or 3 main dishes. Third, it was a little over-decorated with Indian deco. So, we left.
After dropping our bags off at the hostel (this time, we were smart and took the subway back), we went to a Vietnamese noodle restaurant that we had seen earlier in the afternoon. This place was much better! It was so little and cute, and more importantly, staffed with actual Vietnamese people. I got Vietnamese vermicelli, which was served cold with sauce, cucumbers, pineapple, carrots and other veggies. And, of course, spring rolls. Mmmmmmm. And they gave us yummy yummy tea.
After dinner, we wandered for a little, and decided to try out the DVD rooms. DVD rooms are basically like your own private movie theater, but more comfy. They're places where you pick out a movie to watch, then they send you to a little room where you watch it. Jon and I hadn't been to one yet, but friends of ours said they were fun. Plus they're cheap. So, after much deliberation, we picked "Sweeny Todd," and were directed to our room. There was a big couch/bed/cushion thing in the room, and a big TV. It was pretty fun, and the movie was good. Except for the many gore-y parts. All in all, a great concept-- you can pick whatever movie you want (they have a ton) and it's pretty cheap.
That night, when we got back to the hostel around 11pm, people were already asleep in the room we were in (it was a room with 3 bunk beds. There hadn't been anyone elses' stuff there in the afternoon), so we just went right to bed. It was pretty quiet, with only a few people opening the door during the night. Unfortunately, there were no windows, so when I woke up at 10, it felt like 7. That morning, Jon and I went our separate ways to buy each others' presents, so I won't go into detail about my adventures that morning in case he reads this... :) But we had agreed to meet back at the hostel to go out for lunch afterwards. Of course, I was running about 1/2 hour late, but it was okay since Jon ended up being about 1 1/2 hours late :). So I hung out at the hostel with the owner, chatting a little, reading my book and drinking a nice mug of tea she made me.
When Jon finally made it back, we packed up our backpacks and went into central Seoul to look around a little, then to the train station. We ended up wandering downtown and eating lunch at Quiznos, honestly one of my favorite restaurants in Seoul because sometimes, you just need a good sandwich, and there's really nothing deli-like in Jeonju, not even good bread or lunch meats to make subs. (Except one place in the University area but it's still not as good)
Anyway, this was supposed to be about Christmas time in Korea. It's still pretty Christmas-y in stores, but not really outside-- no lights on houses, or big trees. We bought a HUGE tub of candy canes at Costco in November, so we've been giving them out to students as prizes when we play games in class. Also, I had my students make paper snowflakes last week, which they loved, and we used them to decorate my classroom, which now looks like it's experiencing a blizzard. And then I made a Christmas tree out of construction paper and put it on the wall, with red construction paper 'bulbs' with each student's name on them. And a star. I had my very little student (whose class mostly involves me reading stories to her) help me hang it up and decorate it. It was cute, and quite fun! We're doing secret santa with the other teachers/the administrative assistant here...I'm quite excited! It'll make up for having to work on Christmas Eve...ugh! But, we're just pretty much going to watch Christmas movies with all our classes (at least I am..!). And eat candy canes and hot cocoa.
Plus, I can't complain about days off. We just found out we're getting the 31st-the 4th off anyway. So I guess it'll be Seoul for the New Year, then who knows where.......