This year was the 5th of my last 10 birthdays that I have spent out of the country. Nineteen was in Germany, 23 and 27 in Mexico, 26 in Peru, and now 28 in Korea. Often I am just arriving somewhere, don't know many people, and don't have any expectations. Then I am always pleasantly surprised! This year was no exception- I had a wonderful birthday and am so grateful to all the new and old friends who rallied to help celebrate. Since my birthday was on a Sunday, I decided I might as well claim the whole weekend for the event.
On Friday after classes, the school had a little party with cake for me and another staff member. There was a tasty, not-too-sweet chocolate cake and a white rice flour one. It was my first time eating cake with chopsticks! I also got some mail before the work day was over- a couple cards from aunts and uncles, and an amazing birthday package from Elizabeth in Argentina. She had great timing getting the package to me (I'm good at sending international gifts, but NEVER on time) and even had a primary color teaching theme to the presents! Thanks Eli, that totally made my day!
After work I went home, planning to have a quiet evening, but the headmaster invited me, another foreign teacher, and a bunch of other staff out for dinner. We drove about 45 minutes up the coast to a seafood festival, which only happens two weeks out of the year and this was the last weekend. I was really hungry and looking forward to grubbing on some fish or shellfish. There were several big temporary restaurant tents set up for the festival, like this:
It turns out that seafood festival really meant baby octopus festival.
This week is the only time when you can fish for this special baby octopus which is supposed to be amazing for your health- good for the blood, anti-aging, cancer fighting, etc. It was an honor to get invited out to this meal... but let's just say it was not something I was inclined to get filled up on. We had a pot of broth on a gas burner at our table, and they drop the octopus in alive. It only cooks for a few minutes before the tentacles are ready and you can cut them off. The head has to cook for awhile longer.
So I got to try boiled octopus, octopus broth, stir-fried chili octopus, ramen octopus, rice and vegetable octopus, raw octopus. I definitely ate a lot of the banchan (side dishes) that night, mmm, it was a delicious dinner of bean sprout, seaweed, and kimchi.
But the company was good and we were having a grand time, so we decided to sing some karaoke! Here it is called a noraebang, or singing room. The group alternated between Korean and English songs and I even did a duet with the headmaster.
On Saturday I joined some friends on an epic journey to Costco. It's an hour and a half train ride, and it was a beautiful day for a train trip. I feel overly American admitting that I went to Costco, but it was great to stock up on a few items that aren't available anywhere else. (Well, maybe in Seoul, but that is even farther away). I'd say about 80% of the products are the same as in the states, and the other 20% are Korean. I went for the coffee, black tea, tortillas, and cheese. I marveled at few things, like that Korean Costco carries lawn mowers. I have yet to see a lawn here.
On Sunday morning I went for a long run in a nearby park. I ran there, around the lake, and back home, probably over 7 miles all together. Again, it was surprisingly warm and sunny, and it felt great to log some decent miles. Here is the only picture I have of Eunpa lake, but this is from a different day. A much colder day a few weeks ago.
Before I came here, the school put me in touch with one of the teachers for packing advice. Her name is Alex, and she was invaluable in helping me get ready to leave. She is no longer at the school after having a baby, but she has still introduced me to a handful of other English teachers. They organized a birthday lunch for me on Sunday which was perfect- celebratory but mellow. We found a sushi place that was open, and enjoyed a hybridized Japanese-Korean meal- nigiri, miso soup, chilled buckwheat noodle soup, kimchi, Korean bulgogi and donkas.
This thoughtful posse even brought a cake, party hat, and mini chocolate Easter bunny. We moved location for dessert, drinking coffee and tea in an enjoyably gaudy super-floral coffee shop. Later I went for a walk to Alex and her husband's new apartment, hung out with them for awhile, and also got to see more of their baby, probably the cutest baby in Gunsan. It was a fun weekend, and so far I'm feeling good about being 28.