The jetlag finally wore off, just in time for our first weekend in Seoul. The past few days have been crazy. We only observed a few classes Friday, and in the afternoon sat down with the head teacher, Robbie, to talk about the job some more. In the evening, our friend Tanja took us to an all-you-can-eat Korean barbeque, which was ridiculous. When you go in, you take your shoes off and leave them at the door. Then you sit on mats set around low tables with a pit carved out of the middle. Someone who works there comes over and lights a small fire in the pit, over which you cook the meat that you eventually eat. When I say meat, I generally mean pork. Yeah, pork. Something I gave up eating when I was 15. It was really weird to eat it again, especially considering that we’re in the middle of the Ten Days of Repentance. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but I know how difficult it is to live here for a year and not eat traif. It’s only a year, and I have a feeling I’ll stop eating it when I go back home. I don’t know. I don’t really want to get into it right now. That’s not the point of this post! This post is supposed to be about awesomeness!

So right, Korean BBQ. We cooked the meat, garlic and onions over the fire, then wrapped it up in a lettuce leaf with rice and various sauces and ate it. Amazing!! My favorite wrap was a meat/rice/roasted garlic slice/onion combo. I let the meat soak in soy sauce before putting it in the wrap, and it was so ridiculously good. To top off the meal, we ordered rice wine, which came in two small wooden carafes. I think the total price, for both, ended up being about $3.50 American. It was very sweet, but so addicting. Needless to say, we polished off both carafes.

After dinner, we walked around the area, which is called Suyu. Seoul is divided into a whole lot of neighborhoods. Suyu, where our school is, is pretty big, but fairly walkable. We came across this coffee shop called Dr. Fish. Right next to all of the tables are a few elevated tubs. In the tubs are hundreds of tiny fish. YOU PUT YOUR FEET IN THE TUBS AND THE FISH NIBBLE THEM. I blogged about this concept over the summer, because CNN.com ran an article on a place in Virginia that offered it as an alternative to using a razor during a pedicure. Here’s the huge difference: The place in Virginia charges over $30 for a 15-minute session; Dr. Fish charges the American equivalent of $1.60. I believe I said, “I can’t help but wonder how my ticklish feet would fare in one of these places.” Well, not well. For the first ten minutes, I was doubled over laughing, with the occasional squeal or squeak thrown in. Erin got this great shot of me:

Me at Dr. Fish

Want to see what the tubs looked like? Again, courtesy of Erin:

It's just a shame you can't see my sweet pedicure that I got more than two weeks ago and has yet to chip

Anyway, if you come to visit, I promise to take you here.

So Saturday, we made our way to Changdeokgung, one of five palaces in Seoul. The palace dates back to the early 15th century, though various portions of it have burned or collapsed over time and been rebuilt. The highlight of the palace was the Secret Garden, which was this sweet area full of trees, flowers, ponds, streams and pagodas. The only downside is that despite being on the English-language tour, our guide spoke very poor English. We probably would have learned just as much had we gone on one of the Korean tours. Here are some of the photos I took from the tour:

The entrance to the palace grounds. This was built in 1412.

The King's Palace? Maybe, I couldn't really understand the tour guide. But it IS really cool looking!

Inside

Secret Garden

Pagoda in the Secret Garden

Erin and I will be doing this in many of the pictures we take this year. Brace yourselves.

After the palace, we metroed back home and hung out for a few hours. That night, we went into the “Western” district, Itaewon, to Hard Rock Cafe for someone’s birthday, but left fairly early. The metro here stops running around midnight, even on the weekends, so unless you want to mess with a Korean taxi driver, you have to call it an early night. Or walk.

Sunday, Erin and I hit up Insadong, which boasts an impressive shopping/antiques area. We saw a lot of touristy shops, but found a few good things (a hat for me, a scarf for Erin). Erin was much more adventurous food-wise than I was, buying a fish-shaped pastry made with red bean, cooked in a waffle iron contraption. It was…interesting. And surprisingly good. Definitely the best food discovery of the day. We eventually left Insadong and headed to Dongdaemun, another district with good shopping. Dongdaemun was insane, and I mean that in a good way. It felt very Asian, very untouristy, and that was nice. We walked through markets and past a million different stalls, selling headbands, socks, jewelry, porn, CD players, power tools, used shoes. You name it, it was there. We came across a creek that flowed through the city, complete with stepping stones and fountains. After hours of perusing the stalls, we headed back to Suyu, where we had a very Western dinner at Outback Steakhouse. We got back to campus around eight and parted ways. I ended up hanging out with some of the other teachers for a bit and had my first shot of soju, which is pretty much the national alcohol. It’s cheap and goes down easier than vodka, so I guess I can’t complain. Here are some shots of our day:

Insadong-gil

Did a 180 and this was my view. Check outttt that mountain!

Alley off Insadong-gil

My two favorite things, cats and newspapers, ON A PURSE!!! AAAHHHH!!!

Random demonstration on Insadong-gil

Look familiar? It's the only Starbucks in the country with the name on the front of the building in Korean

Just like in America, the Baskin Robbins and Dunkin Donuts are right next to each other...

Random century-old pagoda next to a busy street

Some sort of rivery waterway that runs through Seoul

My fave pic of the day!!

On the stepping stones on the water

One of the streets we walked down. People set up shop on blankets up and down the sidewalk.

That’s it for the pictures I’m going to post here. I’ll post more on Facebook tonight. Eventually, when I get my room set up, I’ll take pictures and post them. Erin and I begin teaching tomorrow (Tuesday) morning…she’s teaching Transportation, I believe, and I’m teaching Art in the morning and Cooking in the afternoon. Four hours of baking tiny cupcakes, here I come!!!

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