U.S. Army Base, Namdaemun Shopping, & Alex’s Korean Speech Contest
It was a cold and dreary Monday (cold, rainy days are the worst!), but I took the subway to Noksapyeong Station to meet my friend Katherine, to go to the U.S. Army Base. Katherine volunteers regularly at the base thrift shop, so she has a base pass. Since I didn’t have one, she had to accompany me onto base and into the thrift shop. As soon as we passed through the guard’s station, Katherine said, “Welcome back to America!” because we were back on U.S. soil. The ladies at the thrift shop were all friendly and I could tell they thoroughly enjoyed volunteering there. I got a tour of the shop, then started sorting through bags of donations (mostly clothes). The clothes that aren’t in good enough condition to be sold are then donated to charities around Seoul and to the homeless. After the shop closed, Katherine and I went to the deli, where they sold quality bagels (I knew I was going to Costco on Tuesday, so I didn’t buy any), and only accepted U.S. dollars. It was an interesting experience speaking English to everyone, and listening to English radio! I will go back in January to volunteer again.
Tuesday after Korean class, Maricruz and I went to Costco. This was my 4th time at the Seoul Yangjae Costco (all at different times of day), and it was no less busy in the morning than in the late morning or afternoon! People here love Costco. And the ones who DO frequent Costco are the ones lucky enough (or unluckily enough because of the traffic?!) to own cars. Even though we had agreed to take a cab back home, we still had to be strategic about our purchases. Of course, the main purpose of my trip was for Noodles’ Fancy Feast and litter (the things I do for that cat…), which are much cheaper than at the local HomePlus store. Oh, and the Koreans LOVE free samples. Especially of meat (because it’s SO expensive). There’s usually a very long line for any sort of beef sample (people queue when the sample lady is starting to cook!). It’s super crazy! I actually bought chicken breast (well, Maricruz and I went halfsies)… it’s the first meat that I’ve purchased in Korea (squid and fish don’t count… neither does tofu or egg)!
After unpacking our goods at home, we immediately set out for Namdaemun market (남대문, which literally means South Big Gate), a large indoor/outdoor shopping area, to meet some other girls. Namdaemun sells everything from fresh-cut flowers to Christmas decorations to clothes and jewelry to handbags. There’s a huge wholesale jewelry market (I will have to back and spend some more time there), where I heard mostly Chinese being spoken between shop keepers. Almost everything was made in China! There were a few stalls at Namdaemun market that wouldn’t sell to “us foreigners”- they said they would only sell to South Korean nationals. Why?! (At night when I told Alex this, he asked why I didn’t just pretend that I was a Korean-born American…ha ha.) We had to duck into a coffee shop for a warm drink because it was so COLD outside. Towards the late afternoon, vendors started setting up tables, etc. for makeshift restaurants, enclosed in thick plastic sheets to keep out the cold. Maricruz and I shared a deep fried sugar/nut dessert (see picture) before hopping on the subway back home.
After a busy Tuesday, I’m just glad to be able to have a relaxing day to myself today. Alex’s final presentation is today… no doubt he’ll be out celebrating with his teammates tonight! But, starting tomorrow, he’ll need to start practicing his speech about Noodles our 고양이, or cat (I’m pretty sure the topics were “Korea” or “How do you like Korea” or “How does it feel to live as a foreigner”…) for Samsung’s annual Korean Speech Contest next week. He has to memorize a bunch of words (three short paragraphs) that don’t really make sense to us, but will hopefully make the judges laugh. We’re hoping he wins some points for having the cutest slides! Alex has just one week to memorize the words and make it sound natural… wish him luck! 🙂