Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Due to illness and birthdays, our regularly scheduled Grub Club got cancelled tonight, and rather than leave you without anything to read, I thought I'd tell you about one of the things I love the most about Mongolia:

The fact that there's a shitload of Koreans here.

Now, I realize this was also why I loved my neighborhood in Shanghai (and why I was able to tolerate it there as well as I did).  Based on that experience, I also realize this is a helluva bad reason to live somewhere.  Fortunately in Mongolia there are a ton of other reasons why I'm happy here BUT the fact remains that I'm a little happier, a little more well-adjusted because "my people" are here.  So I'm going to wrap up what has apparently turned into Korea Love Week at Defying Gravity with some of the things I miss the most about Korea.
The Food
Oh, hells yes, the food.  It took me a while to get into Korean food, because everything was strange, I couldn't read the menu, and I was a lot less outgoing (and thus, less likely to look around the room until I saw someone eating something that looked appetizing to me and tell the waiter to bring me that), but eventually I got over that.  I've waxed poetic about the food - via Korean restaurants in UB - a lot here, so let me leave you with the dish I miss more than any other: dalkgalbi.  It's spicy stir-fried chicken and cabbage cooked right at your table, and it is my personal mission to find someplace that serves it for a grub club this year.

Noraebang is a Korean word that means "singing room," and it's their way of doing karaoke.  Each group gets their own room to sing their (drunken...unless you go with the Mormon kids, and I often did) little hearts out in.  It may start with cheesy solos, but by the end of the night everyone will be dancing and screaming, "SO YOU THINK YOU CAN STOP ME AND SPIT IN MY EYE?" along with Freddie Mercury.  Noraebang is how send-offs for leaving teachers often ended (with the barbecued galbi pictured above being how they started), which is good, because it kept me from getting too soppy.  There are plenty of places to do karaoke in UB - the school even purchased a karaoke machine for the Commie Center - but alas, my friends these days aren't really that type (if I've underestimated you, friends, please feel free to set the record straight, and we'll make some Bohemian Rhapsody happen!)
The Sauna
My first couple of months in Korea I missed my bathtub.  Most apartments there don't have bathtubs, or hell, even a shower stall...they simply make everything in the bathroom water resistant and spray the water from a nozzle attached to the wall, making the whole room the shower.  My friend Ange (she's the Korean one in the photo above), invited all the singles in our congregation to go to the bathhouse with her one Friday night in October, and while I admit that it seems a little weird getting naked in front of women you don't know (and possibly even weirder in front of ones that you DO!) I went along.  Within 5 minutes in the sauna, it was not a big deal.  Yep, we were friends hanging out on a Friday night....naked.  The totally indulgent hot baths aren't the only reason I love the jjimjjilbang, though.  Most of them have a co-ed area, where you put on their uniforms and hang out in different hot and cold sauna rooms, oxygen rooms, and even have restaurants.  My favorite is a 5-story monster behind Seoul Station called Silloam Sauna, and the last time I stayed there they had sleeping rooms, karaoke, an internet cafe, not to mention wifi (although, c'mon - in Korea EVERYWHERE has wifi).  There are saunas in Mongolia, but they're far enough out of the way that I still haven't been to one.  However, the most promising one, in the Sunjin Hotel, is on the way into town from the orphanage, so maybe this is the weekend when I will finally give it a try...
Kids so ridiculously adorable it makes my heart hurt
One particular class of mine has started teasing/accusing me of having a favorite student.  I want to state unequivocally that I don't have A favorite student...they are ALL my favorites (as mentioned last fall).  However, three years with Korean kids has predispositioned me to like them.  Quite possibly a lot.  They are funny.  They are smart.  They like nerdy stuff.  And did I mention ridiculously adorable?  Since last year's (Korean) music teacher convinced most of the high school's Korean population that they are future K-Pop stars (with possibly some truth to it), you can understand how the single, solitary Korean kid in art class might seem to be singled out.  Right???
Belly Dancing

My Dark Lord and Master is always glad to point out how ass-backwardly I do things.  Most recently it was when I admitted I started liking sushi in Mongolia ("IN A LANDLOCKED COUNTRY?!?"), but the original moment came in a little restaurant on Itaewon's Homo Hill, when he said, "I'm in an Egyptian restaurant in Korea watching an American belly dance who's been taught by an Australian.  I don't know where the hell I am!"  Belly dancing has never been as kickass (in more ways than one) for me as it was when I was taking lessons from Azhaar.  She's an amazing teacher, and a pretty fantastic friend, too.  I get disgustingly jealous whenever I think about the girls in Korea taking lessons with her; I hope they know exactly how damned lucky they are.  As for me, I've found a couple of possibilities for classes here, but a.) my feet are problematic (long story) and b.) it just won't be the same.  If I get my feet straightened out, I'll let you know how it goes.

What really made Korea fantastic, though, were the people I knew there.  Some of them were really, truly crazy (like the guy who was my partner teacher for a week and a half, who smuggled pot into the country in his sock), but most of them really fun, hilarious people.  I wouldn't have met any of them if I'd never left the states, and if by chance I had, I probably wouldn't have liked most of them (my homegirl Sara being the exception...I like to think we would have been chingus no matter what).  But thanks to Korea, I did meet them, and I liked more of them than not, and while it's arguable whether or not I've been changed for the better, I DEFINITELY have been changed for good by knowing them.  And while those people are mostly gone from my life, with one or two exceptions. I feel a connection to people who shared that experience - it's one of the (many) reasons I loved Five so much.  Here's hoping I get to see a few of those people in DC this summer.