Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry 크리스마스!

This was only my 2nd Christmas away from home, the first being in Mexico in 2005. I couldn't complain spending that holiday on a beach in Baja, though here in Korea things were actually fairly traditional. With the solid handful of foreigners in Gunsan, we had each other to celebrate with, all excited to stave off that lonely, away-from-home holiday feeling and be together.

It ended up being a 4-day celebration, starting on the 23rd. We traded our usual plastic jugs of Hite beer for a more elegant cocktail party. There were suits and ties and party dresses and various cocktails. It was so nice to have a different kind of party in Gunsan and see our friends get dressed up.
Christmas Eve day was mellow. I slept in, went downtown, had tea with a friend, and rode my bike in the very lightly falling snow. Then Aaron and I went out to dinner at a duck place on the outskirts of town that I've been wanting to go to for a long time. We had dish called 오리주물럭 which is duck stir-fried with carrot, onion, and leeks in a spicy red sauce. It was really delicious, and the side-dishes were good too- sweet and spicy bean spouts, shrimp broth tofu soup, and an interesting firm cabbage kimchi. Then I went home and watched It's a Wonderful Life and drank hot chocolate.
Christmas morning was clear and beautiful. There were patchy remnants of snow, but it wasn't a White Christmas. I Skyped with my dad in Florida which was really nice. Thank goodness for Skype.
My mom and sisters sent a package with gifts for Christmas and before. My sister was so thoughtful to put things that would make it feel like the holiday season- lights, candy canes, festive socks, scented candles. I opened the rest of the gifts in this awesome package, including things I can't get in Gunsan like Seattle tea and organic dark chocolate, and even my own stuffed stocking! So wonderful to still have a stocking, and a big thank you to them for thinking of me all the way over here.

Another of our traditions is a Christmas brunch, and incidentally this is what the foreign crew had planned. I made a roasted eggplant frittata and headed back to James' and Jen's house in the late morning. They are the same couple who hosted the cocktail party 38 hours before, so we are all grateful for their willingness to open their house. They are among the few people who have a place big enough to fit more than 5 people!
It was one of the most amazing brunches I've ever had- biscuits with homemade sausage gravy, crepes with fresh fruit and Canadian maple syrup, smoked salmon with cream cheese, brie, bagels, and capers, pancakes, a fruit platter, yogurt, croissants and other pastries, bacon, fruit cake, mimosas, and coffee and baileys. Did I mention BACON? I think all the food was made more special by the fact that a lot of the ingredients are hard to find in Korea.

After we had all gone back for not seconds but thirds, we could sit back and focus on the gift exchange. We planned a White Elephant with a personal trivia quiz to rank the order of opening gifts. In the week prior, we all emailed Jen one little-know fact about ourselves, and she compiled them into a quiz. Of course, you try to match what you know of people's personalities to the facts, but it was harder than anticipated. It was also funnier than anticipated, with facts such as, "In high school, I was voted most likely to flirt at my own wedding" and "I've ridden an ostrich" and "I won $150 on an MTV game show then immediately lost it to a carnie in a double-or-nothing billiards game". We discovered friends who are musically inept, have almost died of hypothermia, are traumatized by headless chickens, lived in tents for months, and interviewed presidential candidates. I would love to do this again in the future with other groups of friends or family.
Then we graded and scored the quizzes, and the person with the lowest score got to pick a gift first. Then the next lowest score can either open another gift or steal a gift that is already open.... and so forth down the line. People had all gotten nice, interesting gifts, and in the end I got probably the most Korean one- a furry white hat with bear head and ears on it, with an attached scarf that ends in bear paw mittens. Before coming to Korea, I would have considered this gift only appropriate for some one under 10 years old, but now Korean style has slowly infiltrated my brain, and I really like my animal hat/scarf combo. As we gathered our dishes and gifts to head home, snow had started falling in flurries outside.

It kept coming down as I relaxed and drank tea in my apartment. A White Christmas! I was thinking back, trying to remember how many I've actually had. We've had more snow in Seattle in recent winters than from most of my childhood, and I'm thinking that all in all, maybe I've had 5? Do any other Seattle-area folks have an estimate for White Christmases over the last 28 years?
I was still a little full from brunch, so I figured walking to dinner and enjoying the snow was a must. There were women sweeping the snow, and a few people shoveling walkways. Cars were on the road but going slowly, and overall it was just so peaceful and quiet. A group of 14 of us had made reservations at a new Italian restaurant in town, right on Eunpa Lake overlooking the water. We had decided to go with a set menu and fixed price for our large group, and enjoyed caprice salad (OMG FRESH MOZZARELLA, how I've missed you!), and multiple pizzas and pastas with wine and good beer before a walnut cake dessert. The best was an olive oil chicken pasta with lemon, capers, and roasted garlic. The dish was simple, but really really really good. The service was bit slow, but normal for Korea. At ethnic restaurants here it's hard to know exactly what foreign aspects will be adopted and what will remain Korean. Overall it was a really nice meal in a lovely spot.
We tromped into the snow again over to Cherie's place... Christmas was not over yet! We squeezed into her apartment and played a hysterical game of boys vs. girls Charades and then a homemade version of Taboo.
Sunday was Boxing Day, Day 4 of festivities. A group of about 10 of us went to the neighboring city of Iksan to go Ice Skating. We rented skates that were by far the most ghetto ones I've ever seen. They were a hard plastic, so it was difficult to lace them up well, and the blades were completely dull. On the freshly flooded ice, the skates didn't cut into the ice at all, and you literally just slid sideways when you tried to skate! I asked the guy to sharpen the skates and he said no. I asked to exchange them and he said they were all the same. I cannot fathom that a country that is known for speed skating and figure skating, and won Olympic Medals, would subject its average citizen to such a mediocre skating experience. But once more people had skated and the ice started getting rough, we could actually skate a little bit, and had fun. We were the only foreigners, and there were cute couples and a kids speed-skating team. (Photo by Lindsay)

It was a full four days of plenty of activity, festivities, and good food. Hope every one had a Merry Christmas, wherever you are and in whatever ways you celebrate!

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