Hey Look at Me! I’m Kinda Korean!

No, this isn’t another vaguely racist blog post. This is about adaptation, y’all.

Moving to a different country, speaking a new (and Asian) language, diving head first into a new profession, all of these things are designed to challenge one’s identity. The whole point of moving myself to the other side of the world was to encourage personal development. It’s a pretty solid equation

Discomfort = Adaptation = Growth = Bad Ass Human Person

I expected life to be inconvenient: communicating in general, becoming familiar with the public transportation, getting a hold of American things like food or beauty products, none of these challenges came as a surprise. It’s the kind of stuff you take for granted when you are nestled in America, the ease with which you function on a daily basis.

But then there were a few unexpected twists and problems that I did not think I’d be facing, and it’s kind of goofed up my plan.

“Hey dude this beer tastes horrible.”

I didn’t realize that it would be impossible to drink a decent beer. I don’t know if anyone believes us when we keep saying this, but the beer here is shit. It’s just plain awful shit. I often find myself wondering if I would enjoy a Keystone or a Coors Lite more than Korean beer. Worse, I find myself believing the answer is yes.

The dearth of tasty alcohol has left me with a bit of an identity crisis. I’ve gone weeks at a time, WEEKS people, without having a beer. There’s a large bottle of soju that has been sitting on top of my refrigerator untouched since the beginning of September. And the only night I usually drink now is Fridays. THE ONLY NIGHT.

Sometimes I’ll turn to Erin and say, “Remember when we used to get off work at 5:00 on any old weeknight and head straight to <insert random bar> and drink a few <insert tasty beers>? When we used to drink for pleasure?” And then our eyes gloss over as we step back in time and watch our former selves enjoying spontaneous Happy Hour at Delilah’s or T’s.

Then we snap to, soberly look each other up and down, and shudder at what different people we are, what different, less alcohol-bloated people we are.

“Hey, it’s COLD in here.”

If you are reading this blog and plan to come to Korea to teach English, bring long underwear. I will say it again, if you are coming to Korea to teach in a school, bring long underwear. One more time, just in case, if you will be teaching in Korea in the winter BRING LONG UNDERWEAR.

November rolled around and it got cold, as it’s apt to do in the Northern Hemisphere. Then it got colder, and then a little colder. And as it kept getting colder, the Koreans began wearing their puffy coats in school and started opening the windows like it was spring. The foreigners, in turn, started wondering why all the windows are open and why isn’t the heat on. Not one of the answers I have received about the lack of heat and the compulsion to “be one with the outdoors” is satisfying. So I’m forced to spend most of the day with my winter coat on, still freezing my bum off from the icy breeze that’s come in one of those open windows.

And the other day, a Korean had the AUDACITY to insinuate that I was foolish for “not knowing” it would be cold here.

“Didn’t you know it would be cold here?” As in, didn’t you know Korea has a winter season that gets cold?

Um, excuse me, bitch please. “Yes. I did know that Korea has WINTER. Thank you. I just didn’t know that Korea lets winter INSIDE”. I did not know that you choose to leave all the fucking windows open all day and that everyone has to dress like a bloody eskimo to come teach in what is essentially a walk in freezer.

Forced to adapt, I have become a person who appreciates heated America in a completely new way. But I have also become a angry popsicle person. This one might just be a wash as far as personal growth goes.

“Hey, but, how do I cook?”

I knew the kitchen would be small. That there’d probably be no oven. That I’d be working with only a pair of burners to get my ‘cook’ on. But I was still pretty optimistic about being able to spend time in the kitchen doing my very favorite thing in the world, the thing that makes me feel like me.

However, my hopes were quickly extinguished when I realized that I have limited access to American cooking ingredients (remember cheese?), that I can’t read or identify Korean food, and that while I can function with two burners, one square foot of ‘counter’ space is actually really sucky.

I gave up on the cooking pretty quickly. I started eating more and more for lunch at school and pretty much stopped eating any kind of real meal for dinner. I might have a snack, some fruit (I know!) or a piece of toast. And so the only thing gourmet I do anymore is make spam and egg sandwiches on the weekends. Don’t get me wrong, they are kick ass, and I’ve perfected the frying of an egg, but as a culinary enthusiast I don’t have much to show for my four months here. I feel sort of like I’ve failed myself.

Which is why last night’s Kimchi Fried Rice was a major accomplishment. I know, it’s just fried rice, like the easiest thing on the planet to make. But this is the first time that I’ve really used Korean ingredients to make anything resembling a Korean dish, and it’s only because I was forced to. A coteacher gave me a giant tub of kimchi and I needed to figure out something to do with it besides just eat it plain.


And so I fried a little spam and fried a little egg and put some kimchi and kimchi juice and rice in a pan, and voila! Now I’m more me than I’ve been in a long time, but I’m also kind of Korean!

6 responses to “Hey Look at Me! I’m Kinda Korean!

  1. I get, “But you are Canadian! You should have no problem!”

    I do not say, “In my country, we have double-paned windows that close properly and are caulked, walls with insulation, central heating, and no weird ideas about how we will suffocate unless the windows and doors are flung open. It is cold outside, and thus we create spaces where it is not cold, so that we might feel happiness once more.”

  2. I must say, as a fan of fried rice and kimchi, that looks very, very good.

  3. I’m about to schlep my way over from California to Korea this March and I’ve been ravenously reading blogs from those already overseas. I have to say, I ran into your blog and I’m hooked! You offer a hilarious perspective and make me less nervous about this transition, thanks for writing!

    • Thanks! That’s awesome to hear. Do you know where you’ll be living in Korea? Gwangju is pretty awesome! Hahaha

  4. That must have been delicious!!! By the way, I really like your blog. I also write about Korea here: http://ellacino.blogspot.com/
    I would appreciate if you follow/leave comments regarding the posts or the blog itself.

    Thank you ~

    … and I’m gone reading other posts of yours. They are so fascinating!

  5. You’ve probably gone through that tub of kimchi, but in case you haven’t you could try making kimchi jiggae: http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/kimchi-chigae-kongnamool

    I made a batch and it tasted respectable! It also has the bonus of burning you from the inside out, if made properly spicy, and thereby addressing the winter problem.

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