Friday, October 29, 2010


There are few better feelings in life when you take on a challenging situation and you conquer it. Whether it is the Sunday crossword or reaching the top of a 14,000 foot mountain, there is something about proving to ourselves that we really can do it.

Living abroad, it seems that those challenging situations come along with relative frequency and difficulties arise even in the simplest of circumstances. When frustrations push us to our tipping point, it is then that culture shock takes over. Irrational thoughts about the difficulties of our life and the hopelessness of being unable to successfully purchase a bag of chips consume our thoughts and deplete our morale. However, when we are able to persevere through the potato chip shortage or similar cultural shock crises, there is an extraordinary degree of excitement as we revel in the idea that we actually successfully completed a task in a foreign culture.

Such a situation happened last week. As we prepare for the babies in February, we (I should actually say I) have gone through more than a few culture shock moments. Due to several cultural differences, important items such as newborn clothing, cribs, and the always essential diaper genie are extremely difficult to come across in Korea. In my hours of internet shopping and searching I came across an online flea market that offered another hard-to-find item: the double stroller. Knowing its precious rarity, I jumped on the opportunity to buy this treasure. Here was the catch, I had to successfully navigate my way through Seoul to meet the seller and then pilot the stroller back home, all by myself as Chris wasn’t able to join me.

So, I went to my trusty friend Google, found where I needed to go on the subway and headed on my way. One transfer, forty-five minutes, and one almost mistake later, I popped out of the subway and found my new double stroller. The seller and I made small talk about babies, life in Seoul, and then she patted my belly as I went on my way. On my way to the transaction site, I had decided not to venture through the Seoul underworld with a hefty stroller. Instead, I elected the above ground slightly costlier approach of the taxi. This method, while easier in many respects, also presents its own challenges. Living in Taiwan, I learned that one of the most important things to learn in the native language is where you live (after caramel macchiato, of course). So, I hailed a taxi and after he chivalrously helped me load the stroller I told him where I lived. He wasn’t familiar with the area. I gave him a landmark (also in Korean – yay me!) and he took off. The driver politely tried to make conversation and I had to sheepishly shrug and apologize as I have yet to learn “I don’t speak Korean.” You’d think that the “deer in the headlights” would communicate that clearly enough but you’d be surprised at how often it doesn’t deter the chatty Cathy’s (or chatty Saejin’s as it were). Anyhow, eventually the conversation (read: dialogue) turned back to my place of residence. Through charades and very, very broken Korean, I attempted to communicate where our apartment was in relation to the landmark I gave. About fifteen minutes, a few “wencho” and “orancho” (right and left) later, we pulled up to my apartment. Again, he helped me pull the stroller out as I headed up to delight in my successful journey. I had done it! I had purchased a much needed double stroller and vanquished two modes of transportation in the process. Bring it on, Seoul, let’s see what else you got!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Measuring Up

While we feel that are far from functional in our new culture, we can at least compare the few experiences that we have had here in Korea to those that we had during our two years in Taiwan. We’ve found that there are times that we are homesick for Taipei and others that we are glad to be settling in in Seoul. Here is the short list of a few comparisons we’ve made so far and who comes out ahead in our book.

1) Food. In case you don’t already know this about me, I am a big fan of eating. I consistently find that our vacation planning tends to revolve a lot around what food is served where and how we can manage to try everything in sight. So, a country’s food is pretty important to me. During our Korean investigation time before we moved, we had a lot of mixed reviews about Korean food. Some love it, some hate it. I couldn’t help but notice, however, that most of the fans of Korean food tended to be of Korean heritage themselves and thus presented a somewhat biased opinion. For the sake of cultural education, I will let you know that Korea’s national dish is kimchi. This spiced fermented cabbage is about as tasty as it sounds (for me anyway, Chris is actually a fan… more to come in blogging future) and as ubiquitous as ketchup on the Korean table. I have to say, with dumplings, milk tea, and mango bing, Taiwan wins this battle hands down.

Score: Taiwan 1, Korea 0

2) Weather. Clearly, the climate in the place you live is extremely important. In Taiwan, the summers were hot and very humid with lots of rain. The winters were cold and very humid with a lot of rain. How were spring and fall? I wouldn’t know; we never experienced those seasons while we were there. In Korea, the summer was hot and a little humid but mostly sunny. The fall has been cool, dry and crisp with just a few thunderstorms. We have yet to experience the cold winters and the blossoming spring but from what I have seen so far, Korea beats the heck out of Taiwan in this category.

Score: Taiwan 1, Korea 1

3) People. From the moment we stepped off of the plane in Taiwan, we were overwhelmed with how friendly the people were. Simply wearing a lost expression in a public place would send a half a dozen helpful locals wanting to help you on your way. They were always kind and forgiving with our horrid Chinese and generous with the English that they knew. We heard rumor that while the Taiwanese were more like Southerners in their hospitality, Koreans were more reminiscent of the aloof New Yorker too busy with important meetings to help out some pitiful foreigner. We have found this to absolutely not be the case at all. Koreans have been just as friendly and helpful as the Taiwanese were. They are always eager to jump in and guide you if you look lost or be patient as you stumble through the shattered remnants of their native tongue that you have destroyed. So, as a very pleasant surprise, we will rate the people the same and give a point to Taiwan and Korea.

Score: Taiwan 2, Korea 2

There are many more comparisons that can be made but we’ll leave it here for now. The obsessive compulsive in me likes equality.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sugar and Spice...

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the 18.5 week ultrasound confirmed that it looks like we've got two little girls on the way! I'm resisting the urge to make the nursery theme colors blush and bashful for Chris' sake. Regardless, it looks like we have a lot of Barbies and tutus in our future. We special requested a couple of "whole baby" shots with which the tech was kind enough to oblige us.

Baby on the left:

Baby on the right:
Cute little suckers, aren't they? Okay, so maybe beauty is in the eye of the beholder but you can at least humor me, right? Plus they have a few more months of cutening up to do before their grand debut. I'm about halfway there!