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Holidays with the Surrogate Fam

Seoul, South Korea

As you may have guessed, in a land with a significant Buddhist overtone, Christmas isn't as big of a cultural deal here. There are a few department stores echoing the American bombardment of holiday cheer, but overall, it's a much more low-key affair. So the holiday was celebrated a bit differently this year. I had a four-day weekend, almost all of which was spent with my surrogate family at Hannah and Michelle's apartment. We spent the Eve watching Christmasy movies and drinking our homemade eggnog and mulled wine, then went our separate ways for Christmas morning to call our real families. We got a skiff of snow on Christmas day, which made us all happy.

Christmas night, we met back up in Seoul for the Rock Tigers. These guys are awesome. They're a Korean rockabilly band, and they always put on an amazing show. Also, it seems
to be my lot in life to fall for completely unattainable Korean rock stars, so that happened, again, this time with the stand-up bass player. [A cautionary note for my more PC readers: extreme honesty ahead!] Still with me? Okay, so when I first got here, I was not psyched about the dating pool, because at first glance, all the men appeared to be gay.

They all carried gorgeous handbags and wore skinny jeans with superstyled hair, and often, topped off the look with eyeliner. Understand, I am all about being who you are and all that good stuff--but I was going to be here for a YEAR. Prospects were limited. And then, a couple months in, I realized the inherent logical fallacy: there are 23 million people in this country. Clearly, the whole nation was not, in fact, gay. I'd become more acculturated, and I'd see a fabulous young man dressed to the nines in runway fashion and just think, "Wow, I really love his purse." And then, a funny thing started to happen about three months ago: I kind of started to like it. These Korean guys got flavor. And now, I've come full circle, and I'm in love every ten minutes on the subway. Life is so much more interesting, and I am so much more distracted now. Evidently, I've been hit by what the coarser expats among us refer to as Yellow Fever. Inappropriate terminology, yes. But not without accuracy.

Hannah's younger brother arrived to visit over his winter break from college, and that's given us an excuse to do lots of touristy things that we just haven't gotten around to yet. First, we toured an old palace, which would have been a more enjoyable experience if it hadn't been 13 degrees out. Still, the bits of snow left on the tiled roofs lent a charming feel to the atmosphere and helped mitigate the pain of the encroaching frostbite a little bit. Next, we headed up to North Tower on Namsan Mountain. The North Tower is Seoul's answer to the Space Needle: a really tall structure with a disk-shaped observatory at the top. We took a cable car up to the top around dusk, which afforded us some epic views of the whole of Seoul spread out around us. SEOUL IS HUGE. The photos I've uploaded here do not in any way do justice to the magic of the sight: it was like being on an island, in the middle of a flat lake, at midnight, where each light was a reflection of the millions of stars overhead.

And that wasn't even the coolest part. At the bottom of the Tower is the Lock Wall: a long chain-link fence enclosing the grounded observation deck, that people have turned into a monument to love. Koreans really love love, as you can see here. The tradition is to bring a padlock, and decorate it however you wish. Some got really elaborate, with etched pictures of couples and families, while others were just two names and a date. When you've inscribed your message on the padlock, you lock it to this fence, and pass the key on to someone else--children, best friends, your other half--and they return to the tower and look for your lock. It's a very beautiful, simple tradition. So, I locked my lock, and now I know that there will always be a little part of me still in Seoul, after I leave and live the rest of my life--because my Key People won't get them until I come home.

Which, by the way, is five weeks plus two NZ months from now. WOW. By the way, I tested for and received my BLACK BELT last week, so look for that post soon. Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays!

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on December 26, 2009 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: I go Korea!
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Hey everyone! In February 2009 I left the Pac Northwest for South Korea to teach English for a year. This is what I'm up to! Keep in touch!

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