Yesterday officially marks the one month date from leaving the States, and it has absolutely flown by. It is crazy to think how different an experience this has already been from France, let alone Greece. My team gets after it in the gym every single day, which for me is so fun…because even if I come into the gym feeling sluggish, the tempo and energy pull me in right away.
When I wrote my last post a week ago, I was expecting another 10 practices on Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning, before Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday off. As we got back to it on Thursday, I think Coach could tell we were all feeling it. I rolled out of bed, less than half-awake at 6 am for our morning walk/stretch/meditation to find out that Saturday was Korea’s Independence Day from Japan. So the girls asked for Friday afternoon and Saturday morning off and we got it! That meant instead of 10 practices we would still have four on Thursday, but only two Friday, and then were home free!
After a weekend in Seoul with the Americans two weeks ago, that was a liiittttle more excitement than I planned for, and a CRAZY first half of the week…I cannot explain to you how excited I was to do nothing for 2 days straight. I am so grateful to have awesome American’s on each of the teams in the V-League this season. Trying out together in California a few weeks ago, gave us all a chance to meet each other, even though we were all familiar for the first part. But we all decided to meet up in the city for dinner and a night out after our first full weeks.
We ended up having dinner at a restaurant called Bermuda in Itaewon, which is a popular neighborhood in Seoul. My translator and I took the fast train up there from Gimcheon, and it took us about an hour and a half for $30…Not too shabby. The train system is similar to what I used in France, and relatively easy to get around even if you don’t understand Korean. Itaewon is an area of the city that is known for being heavily populated by Americans and foreigners on the weekends. I was shocked at how many people were speaking English. I felt that it was definitely the majority that night… or the Koreans that approached us asking if we were volleyball players (that obvious??) spoke English as well.
Regardless, it was pretty much your typical big city bar scene, but just on narrow, hilly roads with minimal cars, instead of big city streets. It was great to get away for the weekend, and we all talked a mile-a-minute as soon as we sat down, about how had been going for each of us, since we arrived in Korea. I’m looking forward to seeing a familiar face on the opposite side of the net every time we match up with another team.
The next morning, Olivia and I explored two other neighborhoods of Seoul. One was near a University, and was full of young people and so much life. The energetic vibe was absolutely infectious… Students dancing and singing, and all the fun clothes and little boutiques filled with millions of hair clips and key chains. We took the subway to another neighborhood as I started to fade from the previous night’s activities. The second place was more of a market style… Lots of “handicrafts” as Olivia calls them, man made trinkets and pottery and jewelry and lots of little food stands. We ate and headed back off to the train station to get back in time for our 9 pm, Sunday curfew…with enough time to recover for 6 am meditation on Monday morning.
As promised I wanted to include a few tips and tricks and plain-old-funny things I have learned/seen so far about the culture in Korea:
1. You better like spicy food!
Koreans love chili peppers! I am so thankful I enjoy spicy food, because pretty much everything comes with a slew of chili paste in some form or another. Kimchee is a staple here (fermented cabbage with spicy seasonings — basically a form of flavorful, fiery hot sauerkraut) and is served with many other side dishes, along with main dishes, soups, salad and fresh fruit. The amount of food is often overwhelming, and my coaches always want me to eat more!
2. There are minimal table manners
Eating is a huge part of the culture here, but pretty much anything goes at the dinner table, slurping noodles, drinking soup from the bowl etc. I feel like the girls never use their napkins, yet I find myself running through rolls of paper towels in an effort to not have noodle-slurping-remnants all over my face every meal. The whole meal atmosphere is based around sharing, often everyone dips into family style dishes in the middle of the table.
3. RESPECT your elders!
Seniority is HUGE here. It’s common to ask someone how old they are when you first meet them so you know where they stand. You want to find this out early because it’s customary to bow to anyone older than you, even my teammates (even though they usually just wave at me :)). The bowing rule also goes for business associates. It is all done out of a sign of respect and usually only the first time seeing them during the day. If an elder comes to a place to meet you, where they are standing and you are sitting down, it is respectful to stand to greet them and then sit down with them. Instead of calling everyone by their name, I can call the older girls on my team “Onni” which means older sister. I think it’s fitting because with how hospitable and friendly this culture is, they all feel like my sisters. The girls who are younger than me can also call me Onni, but I haven’t quite gotten used to answering to that, so they usually call me “Les-a-lee” or “Chickra”
4. It is rude to sigh loudly
I’ve found Koreans are very expressive with their facial features if they dislike something. Whether that be the food, or the color of my black socks (which I was told were ugly haha). But, it is considered rude to make a loud, exasperated sigh. Don’t worry yawning is okay!
5. Take off your shoes!
It’s respectful here to take off your shoes when you enter someone’s home. This includes bedroom, training room, and sometimes to eat. The first night I arrived in Korea, we ate dinner at a restaurant, barefoot, at low tables, sitting on cushions on the floor.
6. Germ free plz!
For a culture who shares all their meals family style, there are a lot of sanitation practices in place. You’ll see hand sanitizer literally around every corner here, and our kitchens are equipped with sanitizing cupboards for all of the dishes, after they’ve been washed. We also have this contraption in our gym that we put our shoes into after practice, and it removes all of the sweaty yucky stuff and dries them out! Pretty awesome if you ask me! They also usually bag food scraps before putting them into the trash, and today a fly landed on a piece of tofu in the middle of the table, and one of the girls took it off the plate and put it to the side. Thought that was cute, but definitely not something we worry about at BBQ’s or picnics outside!
That’s all I’ve got for now…We are in Suwon for the next few days, until we leave for China Saturday for a week! We’re headed to Shanghai to practice with another team. I’m stoked to get to see another country and culture while I’m here. Til next time! XO