Monday, 23 November 2009 c'est la même chose

Birthday What with my birthday being so close to Halloween, and one of my friends here having a birthday the same week, it seemed only right to have a joint birthday night out the following weekend, thus allowing me to convince myself I had a week long birthday!

Sunday afternoon I went to a climbing competition at Palgongsan with Cat and Simon (who have a car....woo!) and Anne (who has good chat...woo!). I'd never actually seen a climbing competition before, and it was really good fun. The audience reactions were wonderful: more than one person shouted 'Nice-uh!' and generally got really into cheering the climbers on through the difficult sections. Palgongsan is also insanely beautiful: 'san' means mountain, so while the climbing was on an artificial wall, we were surrounded by mountainous views. And this being a Korean mountain, there was an impressive temple nearby too. Possibly even more entertaining than the climbing was the sight of a huge crowd of people listening to a truly bizarre selection of songs played in a jazz-pop style in the courtyard of the main temple. Oh Korea. (For Facebookers, Simon's put up an album of photos from this little daytrip - I am tagged in one photo so if you are my friend, you can click it and see the whole album. If you are not my friend I'm not sure what to suggest.)

Sunday night was a wee bit more relaxing than the madness of Halloween – just had dinner with Lacey, and got my second pair of awesome K-socks adorned with my favourite K-pop singer: G-dragon. (Do watch the video – it's quite marvellous.) I showed my socks to the kids at school on Monday, which got the rapturous squealing I'd expected, and generally had a lovely day at work followed by another lovely dinner at Cat and Simon's house.

The next weekend, Simon and I celebrated our birthdays again. Simon turned 30, so he really is 'ajushi' (old man) now, and I got called 'ajumma' (old lady) more than once. We celebrated all this ageing by eating fresh and simple Italian food and drinking excellent Italian wine at a restaurant run by an actual Italian chef. I'm no longer ashamed that my favourite food in Korea is foreign food. I do like Korean food, but its quite samey, and I'm just not willing to give up eating the food of lots of different countries. Of course, this being a Saturday, we went downtown for some fun and frolics, which included free drinks from our favourite barmen and meeting two birthday twins – one actually of the same vintage (1983 was a very good year). We finished off the night by belting out Alanis Morrissette at a noraebang. The next afternoon a few of us went to Hami Mami's for a breakfast buffet, and a cafe with English language magazines. A relaxing end to a very happy birthday week.

Seoul Again. Last weekend, Lacey and I headed up to Seoul for some shopping and sightseeing. We stayed in a 'love motel' in Sinchon the first night, and I now understand why people get a bit cagey about these – the one I stayed in my first weekend in Busan was absolutely fine, but this one was, well, pretty gross. We also learned that staying more than one night in a love motel is rather expensive. Because they rent those rooms out during the day. Ew.

So we moved to a much nicer hotel in Itaewon (the foreigner district) for the next two nights. I didn't like Itaewon last time, and it is still unsettling to be surrounded by so many non-Koreans, but after 3 months, a trip to the international food mart and book store were even more welcome, as was the Mexican and Arabic food. Actually, I think the eating might be the best thing about Itaewon. The Arab restaurant deserves special mention: we met fellow Sijans, Lia and Abby, there for lunch, and were the only white girls there. Most of the other customers were middle eastern men, and the owner seemed a little taken aback that four white girls would go so crazy for a buffet including hummus and falafel. We were politely, if awkwardly, informed that it was rude in Arab culture to waste any food, so we were to eat everything on our plates. This we promptly did. Twice.

We also found time to spend an obscene amount of time in Forever 21, drink some real beer in a brew-pub south of the river (while watching a Korean version of 'Cheaters' on the projector screen), and visit the Leeum Samsung Art Museum. The museum was really brilliant - I don't know why I only manage to go to art museums when I'm abroad because I always like it. They had a gallery of ancient Buddhist carvings and pottery and another two galleries of modern Korean and Western art. My favourite of the Korean paintings was a giant black velvet canvas, with a traditional Korean landscape picked out in diamante. It seemed to sum up Korea awfully well, though I certainly wouldn't want such a tacky thing in my livingroom.

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