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Again, another belated post. My sincere apologizes to you all, really.  A couple weeks ago, Americans celebrated Independence Day. I happen to love this holiday. Why, you ask? First of all, I like that “independence” is a very long word that is easy to spell (all “e”s, no “a”s). Secondly, I think it’s awesome that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day of the same year, and that the in question day happened to be America’s 50th birthday. (In the hours before his death, Adams supposedly uttered, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”)

These days, Americans celebrate the Fourth in various ways. One of my most memorable Independence Days was in 2002 in Omaha, Neb., where we watched the “largest fireworks show west of the Mississippi” at a minor league baseball game, and followed that up the next day with a barbeque in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Doesn’t get more down-home American than Iowa, I’ll tell ya that much. It goes without saying that July 4th is best celebrated with friends, food and fireworks.

Sadly, the fourth of July is just another day on the calendar here in Korea, but heaven forbid that stop rambunctious Americans from doing it up Yankee-style. First stop, friends. Oliver, Mimsie and I headed to Apgujeong, an area of the city near the Han River, to meet up with our Tory friend Rachel and a Korean guy she met that afternoon. Second stop, food. We headed to Smokey’s Saloon, a burger joint with locations all around the city. I’ve never seen a burger quite like the one I ordered. Called the “Kiss Me Later,” it was a juicy patty layered with cheese, garlic chips, special sauce and seven fried onion rings on top. The burger was literally as big as a newborn baby.

 

Hello, thisiswhyyourefat.com

Hello, thisiswhyyourefat.com

 

Recreating the late 1770s...the Brit attacking the damn Yankee. Though technically, Mississippi Mimsie is hardly a Yankee...

Recreating the late 1770s...the Brit attacking the damn Yankee. Though technically, Mississippi Mimsie is hardly a Yankee...

We left Smokey’s with no leftovers and several food babies and went in search of our number three, some riverside fireworks. Considering the large expat community in Seoul, we thought it would be easy to find some Americans shooting off fireworks by the water. Makes sense, right? Well, no dice on the expat explosives, but we found a great alternative–the 7-11 in the park was selling sparklers and magic balls for only a couple of bucks. Excited by the prices and the idea of setting stuff on fire, we quickly threw down 15,000 won and headed to the water.

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We hung out by the water a bit longer before heading back to Suyu. It was interesting to spend the holiday outside of America, my first time doing so. The world gives America a ton of crap, and while some of it is deserved, I’ve never been more proud or grateful to be an American than I have since moving to Seoul. Small things that I took for granted my entire life, such as freedom of speech and freedom to buy Kraft mac and cheese, do not exist everywhere in the world. A few months ago, I showed my Korean friend Chloe the Sarah Silverman video “The Great Schlep”  and she was floored that it was legal for Silverman to insult John McCain in a public forum. A quick Google search informed me that Koreans, notably bloggers, have been arrested in the past for insulting the government and political candidates.

Not like you’re expecting to read another blog entry from me anytime soon, but just a heads up that I won’t have another one up for at least a couple days. I’m heading out early tomorrow morning for a weekend of sun, fun and mud at Boryeong’s annual Mudfest celebration and won’t be back until Sunday night.

Oh, and a fun read about America (no, not Vanity Fair’s Palin piece…though that was awesome) here. You just can’t hate on a country that gave the world toilet paper.

 

My blurry, over-lit city <3

My blurry, over-lit city ❤

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Albeit a week and a half later. Oops!

Despite growing up a mere 90 miles from New York City, I’ve never done the Times-Square-Ball-Drop rite of passage that so many of my friends have done and subsequently complained about. There are a million reasons why I think I could never handle it, but here are the top five:

5. It’s too cold!

4. I’m short and would probably be trampled.

3. All of my friends who would be game for it have already done it and sworn never to do it again.

2. All of my friends who haven’t done it yet simply won’t do it.

1. They don’t let you out to use the bathroom! Imagine me waiting 10 hours to use a toilet? Exactly. You know it would never happen. Ten minutes, maybe. Ten hours, yeah right.

I’ve read the blogs of some friends who have been sorely disappointed by their New Year’s Eve plans, year after year. I never go into the night expecting a whole lot, because I’ve learned that if you head into any situation with high hopes, you’re bound to be let down. So I set out on Dec. 31, 2008, just hoping to enjoy the night with some friends in the city.

The night started calmly enough–Bill, Nicky and I metroed into the city to meet up with Mark, Jeanette and Charlotte. As soon as we climbed the steps up to street level, we knew we were in for an exciting night. Policemen and army troops lined the sidewalks for blocks. The scene was chaotic, but at the same time, oddly calm. We were surrounded by men in fatigues and uniforms, but instead of feeling vulnerable (as I did in College Park post-Duke basketball games), I felt safe. Then again, it’s pretty easy to feel safe when the cops here don’t even carry guns.

After much lolly-gagging and cotton-candy buying (the Brits call it candy floss…adorable!), we headed over to Jonggak, where the main festivities were. We walked along the Cheonggyecheon, which was illuminated by dozens of light fixtures put up just for the holidays.

We walked around Jongno for a bit before heading over to the real party over by Bosingak. If I wasn’t a total failure at prompt blogging, my adoring fans would have been able to read a delightful entry about my friends and I being invited to ring the bell, one of Korea’s national treasures (insert joke about Nic Cage and my absurd love for him here) a few weeks back. Anyway, the bell is awesome. The pavilion it sits in is right in the middle of Jongno, which is a major hub in the city for tourists and Koreans alike.

Despite the sub-zero temperature, I was absolutely fine, as I had layered like a pro (or someone used to upstate New York weather), donning two pairs of Spandex, jeans, three pairs of socks, a scarf, gloves, a tank top, a t-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweater and the warmest winter coat I’ve ever owned.

When the countdown finally came, we were all ready with our cameras focused on the numbers flashing on one of Jongno’s ginormous buildings. My favorite building, although not the one used for the countdown, looks like a spaceship. No idea what the main part of the building is, but the top thing is a restaurant and, according to my friends, moves up and down. Crazy!

Take me to your leader?

Take me to your leader?

The countdown itself wasn’t all that exciting, but I attribute that to the fact that the crowd was counting down in Korean. Throw me English, Hebrew, French or Czech and I’d be fine, but I can’t get past the number three in Korean. I did get some solid video of the last moments of 2008 and the first of 2009. I apologize in advance for Jeanette and I sounding like stupid Westerners.

Within minutes, joy turned to protest as the crowd started to yell, scream and chant against the current president, Lee Myung-Bak. I’m not all that knowledgeable when it comes to Korean politics, but the Koreans I’ve spoken with all seem to agree that Lee has been a poor leader. Despite a background in economics, he has not been able to bring Korea out of its economic slump (you think it’s tough in the States…you seriously have no idea), upsetting many of the country’s citizens. I took the following photos and video with the thought that if it turned into anything significant, I could be an iReporter and give my footage to CNN or something. Then I realized two things. First of all, nothing exciting, certainly on the level that a major news outlet would aim for, ever happens in Korea. Secondly, I don’t quite know anything about photography. Nonetheless, I’m glad I snapped some of these pictures, if only to help myself remember the evening’s events.

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After making our way through thousands of revelers, we bought fireworks off a guy selling them in the street. Yep, fireworks. South Korea = North Carolina. The fireworks cost about a dollar apiece, so we bought a ton of them. Without any laws dictating where we could shoot the fireworks off from, we decided that the middle of the street was a prime location. Unfortunately, so did everyone else in Seoul. The fireworks were literally going off right above my head, which was both terrifying and exhilerating.

Video disclaimer: We were looking for a dude to buy fireworks from when I recorded this, which is why my annoying voice is in it. I just wanted to get some footage to show you how close the fireworks to us the fireworks were being shot off.

All fears melted away after I shot off my first firework and didn’t lose any fingers. I think more countries should allow civilians to shoot off fireworks for the hell of it.

After shooting off the last of our fireworks, we joined the throngs of people headed for the subway, and made it home around 1:30 a.m., just in time to wish our friends who had stayed at SEV a happy new year before we all hit the hay. After all, we all had to work on New Years Day.

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