Winter time, and the living is easy…

My last blog post concluded with a return to South Korea and a mild incident of arson. So let’s pick up where I left off.

The weeks since our glorious return to Cheonan have been completely fire-free – perhaps surprising given the severity of Korean winter. The day after we arrived back, Cheonan was transformed into a winter wonderland – or, as Samuel L. Jackson describes the arctic in the movie Farce of the Penguins, “Mother Nature’s Frigid White Anus.” How I hate the winter.

Rhys was pleased at least, to be able to test out various bits from his collection of outdoorsy equipment – oh, to have a down jacket and merino wool base layer. I, meanwhile, was traumatized by my attempts to be outdoorsy and active when I found that walking to the gym in the below-zero temperatures WILL give you mild frostbite in embarrassing places. I have no idea why this wasn’t mentioned during any of those Russia-set montages in Rocky IV.

Still, this weather isn’t Sylvester Stallone’s fault, and it would be crazy and wrong to pretend otherwise. The snow has at least departed for now, and despite the ridiculous amount of free time on my hands now that it’s winter vacation, I’ve kept occupied and haven’t yet succumbed to winter madness or cabin fever.

One especially pleasant way to spend time during these winter weeks is with a trip to the Onyang Hot Springs Hotel. The hot springs spa there is blissful – various hot and bubbling baths, a steam room, an outdoor hot springs pool, a sauna … a great place to while away time, if you can get used to the fact that it is essentially one big naked unisex party. With strangers. That don’t speak the same language as you. It’s not too awkward though, despite how FREAKISHLY SMALL the towels are. The last time I went, some very nice ladies in the sauna told me I was pretty. It’s nice to be complimented in the nude by equally nude strangers sometimes. Thank you, Korea, for making this possible.

Anyways, let me move on, before I start to sound really creepy. Another excellent way to spend time is perusing through the underground market near Cheonan station. There’s a really nice clothes stall, where they speak pretty good English and do not tire of suggesting pretty outfits you might like to try on. Even better and cheaper is the Thrift Store (yes, its awesomeness completely justifies those capital letters). My poor sense of direction and short term memory mean that I have no idea how to direct anyone there, since I always go with people who remember the way better than I do. All I know is, nowhere else can I get a whole outfit for what I’d spend on a cab ride in England.  Nowhere else does the sales lady give out free fruit, and tea, and coffee, and scarves, for crying out loud. Nowhere else can I buy a PIMP’S outfit (a faux fur coat and trilby) for the reasonable price of 20,000 won. Of course I’ll wear it sometime. For 20,000 won, how could I not? Add to that the close proximity of the store to the best restaurant in Cheonan – Mountain Fishtail, the Indian/Nepalese restaurant whose Chicken Korma never fails to be blow my mind – and there’s really no better place to spend your time and money.

Of course, sometimes one needs a little more than the hot-tubbing and thrifting and curry-guzzling of Cheonan. For these needs, Seoul is just a short (ish) ktx ride away.

My first Seoul trip this month was with Sarah.  Kaleena was taking part in an art exhibition in Hongdae. We had a great time. Kaleena’s oil paintings were beautiful and it was inspiring to see the various Korean artists’ work on display.

Of course, a trip to Seoul cannot be without foodie indulgences. We lunched at a little Italian café whose name I can’t remember and whose food I can’t really recommend, not least of all because it was served on tables that we couldn’t really fit under. I was reminded of big family gatherings, and being made to sit at the “kids” table until I was…well. Way too old for that.

However, the “okay” lunch was more than made up for by stumbling upon Cloud 9 Cupcakes, a cute and sweet cupcake boutique around the corner from the art gallery. I LOVE cupcakes, probably because they combine two of my greatest loves: pretty things and baked goods.

More recently, Rhys and I headed up to Itaewon to check out Stand Up Seoul, a night of Western stand up comedy that happens on the first Thursday of every month at the Rocky Mountain Tavern. We started the night off at Buddha’s Belly, a beautiful Thai restaurant located just behind the Hamilton hotel. The food was delicious, especially the spring rolls. It’s a little pricey (9,000 won for a Mojito is too much for me to pay, at least, when sober) but well worth it.

The comedy night was great. The host, Brian Aylward won me over immediately with his hilarious commentary on two equally laughable topics – New Year’s fitness-related Resolutions, and Cosmopolitan magazine. Both of which, admittedly, I should really stop subscribing to.

Apparently my enthusiasm for the comedy night (or perhaps for the Singapore Slings I was drinking) did not go unnoticed. A guy called Ross, wearing an outfit that I can only describe as “creepy priest” came up to me and asked if I’d help him out when the time came for his act. It sounded simple enough – all I had to do was read from the script he gave me in a deadpan voice. Easy. I readily agreed, (somewhat foolishly) before I had really read what the script said. It turned out that Ross’s act was portraying a crazy-eyed evangelical reverend called John Tempest, and my role was to provide evidence of his ability to “save” people. Here is the script that I had to read:

“My name is Darleen, and two years ago I was a hyper-obese, lesbian, husband-molesting, socialist, paraplegic bitch. I was so hard up, I would prostitute my own daughter for a honk on an ecstasy pipe. I was out of control. But my life changed when I met you, John Tempest. You taught me to love the world, love God, and to love myself. I owe it all to you. And for $39.95…you should be crucified for prices that low!”

Classy, right?

My brief moment in the spotlight went well. The good reverend thanked me for my help, and people seemed to laugh in all the right places (whether it was ‘with’ me or ‘at’ me I couldn’t tell). All in all, an excellent night, which I ended in my usual style – first by demanding to go dancing, then polishing off an un-lady-like amount of street food, and then passing out within minutes of both. Thank you, Itaewon.

The next morning, we breakfasted on the Quiznos subs that Rhys had cleverly insisted we buy the day before and stow in our hotel fridge, and shortly after, went in search of lunch.

Usually, the only place I will happily have a midday meal in Itaewon is The Wolfhound, an Irish pub. This is because I love pubfood, and all day beakfasts, and because I get a little giddy at the prospect of getting a lunchtime buzz on. (Hey, it’s always five o’ clock somewhere). But this time, Rhys suggested checking out the little Italian place next to the Wolfhound and I’m SO glad he did. It. Was. Awesome. Firstly, free crispy, crusty home-made bread with olive and balsamic oil to dunk it in. Secondly, a big bowl of penne pasta, swimming in pesto deliciousness, sprinkled with pine nuts and hidden gems, like garlic slivers and cherry tomatoes. And finally…and this is the best part: a FREE crème brulee. The chef clearly noticed my indecision when faced with the choice between crème brulee and vanilla panacotta (it is the Sophie’s choice of dessert dilemmas) and sent over both. And I ate both. Best day ever.

After the wonderful lunch, we went in search of the Cheonggyecheon Museum. According to 10 magazine, this museum was currently housing an exhibition of Indian Mythology Art. After following the TERRIBLE directions provided by the English section of the museum’s website, we decided to head for a coffee shop to either get directions or give up and get a drink. Luckily, while we were asking the baristas for directions, a very kind Korean woman overheard us and offered to help. She made a quick call, and eventually was able to tell us exactly what to say to a cab driver to get to our destination. She even pointed it out to me on the “maps” app of my iPod touch: “Cheong Gye Moon Hwa Gwan”. Which just goes to show that the world is a better place for coffee shops, ipods and (most of all) the random acts of kindness from perfect strangers.

The exhibition was divided into two sections: The Warli mythology paintings and the Madhubani and South Indian mythology paintings. The latter were more typical of what I imagine when I think of Indian mythology art – beautifully detailed, epic and, most of all, colorful works of art. These depicted the stories of various Hindu gods and goddesses, including: Ganesh, the elephant headed god; Shiva, the Creator and Destroyer; and Kali, the goddess of death and destruction. The Warli tribe paintings, on the other hand, were much more simple. They were composed of printed shapes using paint made from rice powder. Despite their more simplistic, monochrome appearance, these paintings were still epically detailed in their telling of this tribe’s traditions.

All in all, it was an excellent trip to Seoul. The rest of the month will probably be a quieter, less eventful affair, since I recently spent most of my wages on an iPod touch and a meats-and-cheeses binge at Costco.  Nevertheless, I’ll be back with an update soon.

Oh, and one more thing. I want to end on this picture that I took of one of my students that I taught at the Sun Moon University Winter English Camp in January. Her English name is Cindy, and she wanted to show me how well she can raise one eye-brow. It makes me happy every single time I look at it.