First Days in Korea

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The guy I had take this picture is almost as bad as I am!

I am now on my sixth day here in Seoul, and because I did not start the blog when I first got here, I am going to try and recount everything to the best of my ability.

The Flight and First Day (June 20)

A fun fact about me is that I am 6’5″ (1.98m) and as much as I like flying, flying does not like me. When I checked in at the airport, the woman working the desk was kind enough to offer me a seat with plenty of leg room for the price of having to sit next to infants. Three years ago being constantly touched by a toddler and being bothered by his older brother who wanted nothing more than to make me watch him play in-flight games at 2fps would have driven me insane on a 14 hour flight. I guess I’ve matured a bit because I didn’t conjure up any suicidal thoughts, and as far as flights go, this one was pretty damn sweet.

I started by watching “Warm Bodies”, that cheesy movie about a zombie falling in love with a blonde survivor, and then they served me bibimbap. For those of you who don’t know, bibimbap is a Korean dish with vegetables, an egg yolk, and some meat (usually beef) over rice that you mix with some spicy pepper paste. If you haven’t tried this at your (hopefully) local Korean restaurant, I highly recommend it. I then decided to learn to read Hangul, the Korean written language, from the Berlitz phrasebook that my brother’s girlfriend gave me before I left. Their written language is so well designed that within an hour and a half I was sounding out every Korean word I could find on that plane.

During the flight, I watched a Korean movie called “Miracle In Cell No. 7” which is about a mentally disabled man who is wrongfully imprisoned for murder and separated from his daughter. Many manly tears were held back during the course of this film. I then watched “Guilt Trip” with Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand. Meh. And finished with another Korean movie called “The Spies”, which is about a group of North Korean spies living in Seoul called together by their country to perform an assassination, but they’ve all made their lives in South Korea and are very bitter about having to miss work and time with their families in order to kill a defector. One thing to note about Korean films is that they are usually very melodramatic and seldom have happy endings; at best they are bittersweet. Also their style of comedy is usually very slapstick and the acting could be compared to that of the Disney Channel. Of course this does not apply to all films, but even some of the best-written, best-acted dramas may sneak in a scene like this.

Before landing they fed me Korean spicy pork over rice with a salad, fruitcup, and coffee, which was perfect since I don’t sleep much on planes. When I did sleep, it was for about an hour and I woke up with a ham sandwich on my lap. Asiana Airlines is pretty great! When I arrived at Incheon airport, my friend Steven, a Korean who I know from college, picked me up. We went straight to his beautiful house and his mother cooked us some Bulgogi, Korean beef that you wrap up in lettuce with rice and pepper paste. After dinner, he took me for a drive and brought me to a high point in the city to look at the skyline. After a short walk he pointed out that the people were staring at me because I am a tall foreigner. I found this funny, because he is Korean and two inches taller than I am! After our walk we drove back to his place blasting Random Access Memories. When we arrived I went straight to bed and fell asleep with WCS Korea playing on the television.

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View from the hill

The Second Day (June 21)

The day before I left I booked a hostel in Itaewon, a popular neighborhood with good nightlife and a hotspot for tourists, called IS@K Guesthouse. The hostel is located on the fourth floor of a building located on a busy street in the center of the neighborhood between the Itaewon and Hangangjin subway stops. I rang the doorbell and was immediately welcomed by a Korean kid around my age who told me to take off my shoes, put on some slippers that he provided, and checked me in. He gave me the grand tour, which was just a short look at my 4-bed dorm room, where I could find the bathroom, and where the coffee was. Within the first ten minutes I met Jessica, a Taiwanese-American girl who grew up in Texas, but has been living and working in Teipei since graduating college. She had just come from a three day stay in Jeju, an island off the southern coast of the country that is popular with tourists and newlyweds for it’s landscapes and sexland, an attraction with many giant sculptures depicting couples going at it. I didn’t have any plans or an idea of what I was going to do that day so I asked her if she wanted to get some food. She accepted my invitation and invited an older woman who was staying in her dorm to come with us.

We took a cab from Itaewon to a street near Changdeokgung, a royal palace in the center of the city that was constructed in the late 14th century. The first few things we saw were a couple of Chinese food spots and a ton of coffee shops including the Hello Kitty Cafe, a small building completely painted pink and… well you get the picture (pun intended). After a short walk we found a quaint restaurant that had floor sitting only, spoke no words of English, and no menu. You might think, “But Joey, maybe there was a menu and you just did not know how to ask for it!” Well, the Korean word for menu is literally pronounced men-yoo so I don’t think I messed THAT up. We sat down and they served us a bunch of appetizers, as is tradition, and we were all given beef soup and were sent on our way.

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Not my picture, and I can’t prove this is the same one, but you get the idea.

Right after that we went to a coffee shop and I learned a bit more about Kelly, the older woman. She’s a pathology technician from Colorado who is in Korea for her second time in order to find a venue and a few artists for a gallery opening that showcases local talent. Unfortunately I won’t be around to see it, but she hopes it will have scantily clad Korean men walking around. A girl can dream, right? Also, she’s dating a Korean man who does not quite understand American dating, and will refrain from making physical contact with her until the end of the date in which he will give her a small kiss on the forehead. She seemed a bit aggravated, but I think she’ll have to be the one to initiate that one.

We walked uphill for a while, and after about half an hour of whining from my two companions we made it to Changdeokgung palace and took a look around. I’ll have to note that the palace loses its magic when you can’t really walk into any of the buildings, and a modern metropolis unsubtly surrounds the whole thing. We still had our fun. We had missed the start of the last English language tour so I decided to give my own tour: “This fire hydrant was installed on the side of this building in the early 1500’s by the great King Lee Young-Ho in order to fight the dragons that would come for lattes at the Hello Kitty cafe every afternoon around noon. Good feng shui.”

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Building for ceremonies and coronations.

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Just a casual nap at the royal palace.
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I’m guessing Koreans used to be really small.

Hey, What About The E-Sports? (This is going to be disappointing)

After we got back to the hostel, Jessica went to meet up with people she met through some ultimate frisbee network, and Kelly went to take a nap. Because I believed that I had beaten the jetlag by staying up a long time and passing out at Steven’s for fourteen hours, it was time for me to see my first live e-sports event: the GSTL!

I was running an hour late because of my sightseeing, so I hoped I had not missed too much of Axiom-Acer vs. StarTale (I missed Ryung beat Life T.T). I took the subway to the Gangnam stop and the GOM studio wasn’t even a two minute walk away. After taking the elevator up to the second floor I was greeted by a girl behind a desk who asked me for my ID as a deposit for a small radio for listening to the game in English. I walked through the double doors and the first thing I thought was “Wow, where are the people?” There were a few rows of lawn chairs set up and there were only a handful of people, and a sizable amount of them were foreigners. This thought quickly left my mind as I realized that Axiom-Acer and StarTale were RIGHT THERE. I’m a fan boy so I took a few bad pictures of Axiom-Acer and neglected to take any of StarTale as the game was starting and I was feeling a bit awkward (and I was sitting closer to Axiom-Acer and my iPhone camera is hardly complimented by my gosu photography skillz).

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Ryung joking and keeping it cool with MMA and Scarlett before facing Curious

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It took about five minutes for me to realize that I had not, in fact, beaten the jetlag and was fighting to stay awake in my seat. In Starcraft events streamed from Korea, it is very common for the viewers to spot ‘that guy’, (which I was at a Proleague match two days later, but I’ll get to that) and I would hate for it to be me asleep in my chair at my first live event. So the story goes from “Weeeee! Starcraft!” to “Oh god don’t pass out.” I already missed Ryung beat Life and Panic, so it was time to watch Ryung vs. Curious. I don’t remember a thing. Ryung won.

Tensions were high, Ryung was one kill away from all-killing StarTale, my first event ever and I get to witness an all-kill in the GSTL, but I’m failing to keep my eyes open. StarTale sends out Bomber, their number one Terran sniper. If anybody could destroy Ryung with all his momentum, it would be Bomber. The game was intense, Bomber was putting on a lot of pressure, but Ryung’s mech was just too much for Bomber to handle. (I’m really bad at doing this from memory).

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Scarlett holding the mic for Ryung right before his post all-kill interview

After the game was done I got a quick picture with Kahldor and Wolf (see above) and got out. Speaking to them would have to wait until next time, I was way too tired and couldn’t have spoken about the games if I wanted to. I went home and d

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