Wet noodles for everyone?

February 23, 2009

Hoo boy, sorry for being away so long – I only have my faulty internets and procrastinatory tendencies to blame. This month has been relatively light, teaching-wise – only five classes a day instead of seven or eight like I was doing when we had morning kindergarden and private lessons. But life goes on, and so does my rambling. 😛

So you get a giant freaking post to make up for my absence.

26) A rule of thumb when it comes to Korean food? If it looks raw, it is and it’s probably seafood. If it’s green or sprinkled with red curry powder, it’s kimchee or some other type of cabbage. And it’s nearly all spicy enough to burn off half your taste buds.

27) Soup is not necessarily served warm. It’s actually most likely to be cold, and while you can ask the delivery guys to heat it more, actual restaurants will be pissed if you do this.

28 ) Delivery in Korea is pretty flipping sweet (not that I’m conversant enough to order it myself, but I’ve had it ordered). The food is on time, it’s the appropriate temperature, they give you real place settings, real silverware and every condiment you could possibly need and/or want, the portions are huge, they don’t up-charge you for changing or adding onto an order most of the time (you want the spice for the soup on the side? Sure! You want to add pork? No problem!), and when you’re done, they come back and pick it up. The mind, she boggles.

29) Jury-rigged internets are the best thing ever when your cord breaks and the place where it’s plugged into the wireless router is on the roof. A spliced cable will work just fine – though it will take you two weeks of trial and error to figure that out.

30) The existence of good mashed potatoes in Daegu is apparently a myth. TGIFridays, Outback, Bennigan’s . . . they’re all terrible at it. It’s giving me cravings for good mashed potatoes in the worst way.

31) I am, in fact, capable of drinking soju (Korean alcohol, 45-proof, tastes like vodka) and beer all night and teaching the next day. But I should never, ever mix soju and any other alcohol. It ends badly.

32) Noraebangs are the best invention known to man. It’s karaoke! In a private room! With props and free food and cheap booze! I have found my spiritual home.

33) Yvi and I are clearly destined to be world-famous rappers: perfect score on Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” when even Yung, the best singer out of all of us, only got a 98%.

34) Encounters with other foreigners – especially Caucasian ones – in Korea fall into one of two categories: either the fellow-miguk nod (“Yo.” “S’up?”) and scurry for wherever you’re going, or the “OMIGOD SOMEONE WHO SPEAKS ENGLISH LET’S BE BFF’S!!!!!”

35) Never, ever challenge your former-army intelligence officer co-teacher to a game of pool because you think he might be out of practice. He’s not. You will get your ass handed to you in seven shots.

36) Breasts above an A cup are fascinating to Koreans, male or female. You will get them poked and prodded by small children. Women will stop you on the street and ask you if  a) they’re real or b) if they hurt.

37) Liking cats is a cardinal sin in Korea. There’s a number of old superstitions about them, mostly that they’re “ghosts” or “demons” because of their slinky nature and creepy eyes. I still want to adopt every stray cat I see.

38) Packaging is a little strange in Korea. If you think it’s sweet, it’s probably sour and/or fishy-tasting. If you think it’s supposed to be cheese, it’s probably hot. If you think it’s hot, it’s probably BBQ or pizza-flavored. You you think it’s sour, it’s probably sweet. If it’s got a squid on the front, it really is squid.

39) It’s nice to know a little about wine when there are wine bars on every corner and most of your acquaintances don’t know which end of a corkscrew is up. You will end up ordering the wine with dinner, you get the credit when it’s good (and I haven’t picked a bad one yet), and the only downside is the constant pointing and explaining to the waiter/sommelier that yes, the tiny American girl picked the wine. No, none of the men at the table ordered it. Yes, you have to serve her the first sample and yes, she will tell you when you got cork in the bottle.

40) Never ever go to EMart (or any other large store, for that matter) the two days before a holiday. It could be Groundhog’s Day, and the place will be packed. You’ll be lucky to escape in under two hours.

41) Making the pain-in-the-ass fifth grade boys who never. shut. up. hold their hands over their mouths while you’re doing individual reading is amazingly effective. Best trick EVER.

42) Korean weddings are almost exactly like Lutheran church services: exactly one hour long, full of singing and advice from the minister, and there’s a ton of food afterward.

43) At Korean weddings, it is not at all unusual for people off the street to wander into the wedding service, nor is it a cardinal sin to talk during any part of the service (even the vows), because everyone else will be doing it.

44) The number of compliments on my appearance I receive, on average, increases exponentially when I’m wearing a dress, jewelry, and makeup. It gets borderline ridiculous when I’m in heels. The combination of all four at the wedding (my director and our head teacher got married on Valentine’s Day – they are SO adorable) made my co-workers do spit-takes.

45) Wear makeup ONCE in front of your fashion-conscious female coworker and she’ll never let you hear the end of it. Apparently I’m hideous without makeup?

46) Do not be shocked if you find surprise something in your food. Koreans love surprise ham, surprise cabbage, and surprise coconut. Some surprises are good (the coconut in my sushi at the Japanese place up the main drag is yummy); others are less-than-good (the cabbage in my otherwise yummy bread at the Korean place we went to the day before the wedding caused me to throw up for the first time since I got here).

47) Di, IllyJ, and Yvi have apparently been christened my “Pohang Gang” by my coworkers (slight digression: Yvi was the one who talked me into this crazy adventure in the first place, Illy and Di are her co-foreigners in her school in Pohang, and they’ve come up to Daegu to hang with me a few times). I totally wouldn’t frak with any of those girls – they’ll kick your ass. And girly nail-painting, fruity-drink imbibing, and stupid picture-taking has never been so fun.

48) Even the kindergarden class you spend two hours a week screaming your head off at will bring you candy and give you hugs on Valentine’s Day.

49) You know you haven’t been attached on Valentine’s Day for a while when the most celebrating you’ve done in years is dinner at a French/Mediterranean place, followed by an aborted attempt to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and ending up at 1 am at a DVDbang (a slightly questionable place where you can rent a room and a DVD and get free snacks) with two of your coworkers – one male, one female – watching The Duchess. Good times.

50) Everyone, regardless of age, race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or nationality, loves The Muppet Show. This is truefax.

Okay, I’m tapped out and I have class to teach tomorrow. You’ll get the rest of the 20 more I owe you tomorrow.


Welcome to thingsyoulearn – short for “things you learn when you move halfway around the world to teach for the first time in a country where you do not speak the language”. Obviously, you can’t fit all that in a username. So hi! I’m assuming you know me if you’re reading this, but for the sake of introductions, I’m Drea. I spent five years getting a B.A. in English and five months running around unemployed after graduation. But now I have a job: teaching English to 8-12 year olds in Daegu, South Korea.

Rather than just be a blog where I yammer about the craziness that’s going on with me, I’m also making this a list. One thing I’ve learned, each day, for the 365 days I’m going to be living here. Since I’ve been here for 10 days already, you get 10 right off the bat:

1) Airports in Korea close at 10 pm, even international ones. Meanwhile, everything else, including markets, restaurants, and arcades, stay open until 3.

2) Everyone takes their shoes off upon entering a home. This does not mean you should do this in a public place, like, say, an E-Mart (what you get when you mix an Acme with a Wal-mart that’s open 24/7). People will look at you funnier than usual.

3) No one has a dryer in Korea. When it’s 30 degrees out, and you’d rather not have freeze-dried underwear, you improvise. Improvisation may include explaining to your Korean co-workers why your clothing is spread out across your floor. Improvisation may also include then convincing your Korean co-workers that you are, in fact, a sane person.

4) The phrase “comfortable mattress” does not exist, nor does the phrase “mattress pad”, unless you wish to go all the way to Seoul, order one, and pay out the wazoo for it. If you are a Delicate Flower who needs a feather-soft bed, multiple pillows, and 5000-count sheets, you are going to have Problems. You will be fine sleeping atop one comforter and using any other bedding as warmth.

5) You’d be surprised what pointing and mime will accomplish, but it’s still best to learn a little of the language. That being said, stick to what you know, or you end up thanking the counter girl for polishing the squid when you really just want to ask how much your bill is.

6) Pizza Hut in Korea is not only way classier, it tastes better, too. How much of this is because you’ve been eating PB&J, various types of noodles, and cereal for the past week is negotiable. It still doesn’t change the fact that it tastes fantastic. Also, the buffalo wings don’t actually come with sauce in Korea, no matter how many times you point to it on the menu.

7) Everything, whether it’s Korean, Italian, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Indian, or Greek food, comes with sweet-and-sour pickles. Not kimchee – it comes with that, too – but sweet and sour pickles in vinegar brine. There is no explanation for this.

8) Inexplicably, most of the Japanese food you encounter in Korea is terrible, where most of the Italian food is fantastic.

9) Don’t drink the water. You can bathe in it, cook with it, brush your teeth with it, and wash your clothes with it, but it’s best not to drink it, even when you live in a big city like Daegu, where they treat their water. Buy a 2 liter of bottled water for 50 cents at a corner store once a week.

10) If you see someone who’s driving a motorcycle, they’re a delivery driver, and it behooves you to get the hell out of their way posthaste. They can smell fear, and they love terrorizing foreigners.