Monday, October 21, 2013

The Color Run, swing dancing, and staying up until dawn

This weekend was awesome. Like, really all-around awesome.

A few weeks ago I signed up to do the Color Run in Seoul with some of the other people in Jeomchon.  I have some friends that live in Seoul/Suwon, so they also joined our team to get in on the fun as well.  I did the Color Run in Boston two summers ago, so I knew it was going to be a good time.  It certainly didn't disappoint.

I went up to Seoul Friday night with another Jeomchoner.  When we got to Seoul I met up with one of my friends who lives in there, we grabbed some chicken and a beer, and went back to her place to get to bed.  Of course, we didn't actually get to bed until 2 AM....because well, we're girls and we talk a lot.

The next morning came way too soon, as our alarm went off at 6:30 AM.  We mustered up all of our energy and headed to Seoul Grand Park, where the run was being held. We met up with the other members of our group and started to run.  The running didn't really last that long because it became immediately apparent that most Koreans were more concerned about the photo opportunities presented by the Color Run than they were about the actual running. So, the Color Run was in reality the Color Walk...or actually, the Color Walk while taking an insane number of selfies. Not that I was really bothered by that since I really don't care for running and I was pretty tired from the lack of sleep the night before. A leisurely walk in the park was A-okay with me.
At the clean still!

All orange!

Finished product

We had a great time at the Color Run and we were successful in getting completely covered with color.  By the time the run was over we were all hungry and we found a place to eat.  It was really entertaining to see other people's reactions to us on the subway as they saw us covered in colors.  Korea is obviously an image conscious country, and Seoul is pretty much the center of all of that, so the majority of the Koreans were looking at us like we were completely insane for going out in public in such a state.  Oh well.

When we finally got back to my friend's apartment, it was probably around 4:30.  By that point I was exhausted, so I took a 20 minute power nap on my friend's floor while she took a shower. After we got clean, we headed to Suwon, which is a city right outside of Seoul.  Suwon is smaller than Seoul, but still a pretty large city, and home to one of my friends who also is a teacher.

We decided to go to a place that has swing dancing (yes, swing dancing in KOREA!) from 8-11 on Saturday nights.  My friends have been many times, and told me it's really fun and you don't need to have any prior experience.  I was easily sold since I've always wanted to try swing dancing, and I was pretty pumped to give it a chance.

We had a really awesome time swing dancing, and we stayed until the last song at 11.  I definitely never in a million years would have expected to be SWING dancing in Korea, but I'm so glad we went because it was right up my alley and definitely something that I want to do again.

After we finished dancing, we went to a pretty low key bar and got one drink.  After that, one of our friends opted to go home for sleep, but before he left we made plans to watch the sun rise.  The sun wasn't supposed to rise until 6:45, so we knew that it was going to be a long night, but now that it was just us three girls, we were ready for the challenge.

We decided to move on to a dance club next to get some energy for the rest of the night.  This particular club apparently plays old K-Pop from the 80s and 90s. I obviously didn't know any of the songs, but I had to think: how awesome would it be if we had a club in the US that played 90s pop songs? Amazing. Someone really needs to work on that!

We had a lot of fun dancing, and during one of our breaks we sat down at a table and met three other Korean guys. Anyone who has ever been to a club knows that it's nearly impossible to have a conversation with anyone because of the loud music.  This becomes even more of a challenge when there is a language barrier.  The guy that was talking to me could barely speak any English, so I had to keep asking him to repeat what he said, then it would take another minute for him to think of what he wanted to say, and then once he would say it, I usually couldn't hear a word of what he said.  It usually ended in him using google translate, which made sense about 50% of the time.  Oh well.  At this point I was with two other girls--one of whom is Korean, and the other is from Hong Kong, can but speak Korean.  So, despite my inability to speak Korean, things could still be translated through someone else, which made it easier for me to have a clue about what was going on.

We hung out for a while longer with the guys, and eventually we decided to leave with our new friends and go in search of some food.  Of course, it was probably about 3 AM by this time, but you would never know since the city really does not stop in Korea.  Every sign on the street is made of bright fluorescent lights so when you go outside it never really feels dark.  Plus, there is no last call, so people will really just keep drinking all night long.  It's insane.

We ended up going to a noraebang place, which was perfect because we could order food AND sing.  Awesome.  We spent the next few hours there, and I was going strong until about 5 AM, at which point I totally crashed.  One of the other girls and I ended up crashing in our noraebang room for about 20 minutes....because that is normal?  But actually, I bet we're not the first ones to do so.
This is how the hallways at the noraebang place were decorated.  So awesomely Korean.  I absolutely love it. 

This picture wasn't even my idea.  Koreans must be the only people on earth who feel the need to take more pictures than I do.

Our friend who had gone home earlier in the night overslept, so although we were trying to stay awake until 6 to meet up with him, we ended up not being able to see the sunrise.  I mean, we did actually see the sun come up, but we just didn't have a good place to get a scenic view.

At this point I was so tired it was almost painful to be awake any longer, but we went and got one last coffee before we FINALLY got in a cab and went to my friend's apartment where we went to sleep.

And what time did we finally go to bed, you ask?

8:30 AM.

And keep in mind we only got roughly 4 hours of sleep the night before.

I slept until 1, had some food, and caught the 3:00 bus back to Jeomchon.  Needless to say, I went to bed early Sunday night.

Despite the damage to my sleep cycle, this weekend was one of the best I've had since I've been in Korea.  When I got to Seoul Friday night, I was with one of my Korean friends from Jeomchon and my friend from Hong Kong.  As we sat there eating and talking, I had a moment when I realized just how awesome my life is right now.  Two months ago I did not know any of these people.  In fact, two months ago I didn't have any friends who live outside of the US.  But there I was, sitting and laughing with two people from different countries, all three of us with different first languages.

Sometimes when I am at work I start to question why I'm teaching here. I had to write plenty of papers about my philosophy of teaching social studies when I was in college, but in all honesty my reasons for going abroad were somewhat selfish.  It was the experience of living abroad that brought me to Korea, not my desire to teach English. I've been working in a country whose education system has an educational philosophy that is pretty much the exact opposite of my own. In Korea, many students study English simply for their college entrance exams--they take English because they have to get a good score on a test to go to a good college.  Many of them will forget everything they have learned as soon as they graduate. On some days I've seriously wondered why I spend so much time on lesson plans when in reality, many of my students are never going to become English speakers.

However, this weekend showed me how awesome it really is when English can serve as a common language between people.  Having a common language allows you to be friends with so many people you would otherwise never be able to share experiences with.  This is what I want to be able to convey to my students--they have so many opportunities ahead of them, and if they can think of English as more than something than they need for a test, they open up a world of possibilities for themselves.  I also think it would be helpful if I could tell my male students "Hey, one day you're going to be in a bar and there's going to be a western girl that you're going to want to talk to.  Learn English now so you actually can without relying on google translate."  I'm not sure my co-teachers would ok with me actually saying that...but I bet it would be effective.

Language is tremendously powerful.  When you don't know what is being said you can feel isolated and alone.  But when you can have a common language with someone you can connect and share life's finest moments with other people--even people who have grown up on the other side of the world, thousands of miles away from you. It's fascinating and awesome, and it makes me feel really blessed that just because I was born an English speaker I am able to have this experience.

To say that I am fortunate is a huge understatement.  I have been taken care of ridiculously well throughout this whole process--from the wonderful orientation we had, to my rent-free apartment, to my salary  (which pays me just about as much as teaching in America while doing less work), to the health insurance, to the vacation days, etc.  Just being born an English speaker has provided me with the opportunity to be here and live a comfortable life--if that's not the definition of privilege, I don't know what is.

Of course, I've been really lucky that I've met people from other places who can speak English.  I don't expect everyone else to always learn English just so they can talk to me. I really do want to be able to have conversations in Korean as well so that I can continue to share experiences with people while I'm here.  It's just that you know, Korean is one of the hardest languages to it's going to take some time.

If you would have asked me a few years ago where I thought I'd be at 24, I never would have said that I thought I'd be spending my Saturday night (well, technically Sunday morning) in a noraebang room in Korea with five other people, among whom I'd be the only native English speaker.  Life sure is unpredictable, but right now I absolutely love it that way.

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