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Yay for International Caltech Alums!

On Sunday August 14, Kelly and I took a bus to Daegu, a city several hours east of Gwangju, to visit a Caltech alum. Kyung Ha Lee graduated just last year and taught a year-long Korean class which Kelly had taken. For a snack on our long bus ride, we bought some triangle kimbap from one of the many convenience stores in the bus station. Traditional kimbap is rolled like a sushi roll, but with spam or other cooked meat and vegetables rather than raw fish. The triangle kimbap is cheap, only 800 won (US$0.75) and is actually really tasty even though it is convenience store food. I’ll miss it when I get back to the USA.

When we arrived, Kyung Ha and her mom picked us up at the bus terminal and took us to downtown Daegu. It was really cool. Many of the streets are blocked off for pedestrians only. Kyung Ha took us to a delicious lunch. We had soup and meat that we wrapped in leaves before eating. This is a common way of eating a lot of different meat dishes. Oftentimes there is also a salty bean paste that you put in the leaf with the meat.

Afterwards we did a lot of fun things that Kyung Ha treated us to. She told us that it is a Korean custom to pay for food and activities for visitors and guests. The further the guests traveled, the more the host pays for.

First we stopped by a fortune teller so Kelly could have her fortune told. Kyung Ha said that all the fortune tellers use the same book called "Tojeong Bigyeol," which was written long, long ago by Lee Ji Ham (1517-1578).. It is very complex and can be interpreted in different ways, but by knowing the date and time of one’s birth, they can use the book to tell one’s future. Kelly will supposedly never run out of money will marry optimally when she is 30. The fortune teller also recommended that she date “many men” before settling down!

Next we went to a karaoke place. It was really fun! The room was cute and we got two microphones, funny headbands, tambourines, and free ice cream! There were English and Korean songs that we could pick from but it was difficult for Kelly and I to read fast enough to sing the Korean songs. We had been hearing the more popular ones playing all the time for the last few weeks, so at least we knew the tunes. Also, many K-pop songs include English lyrics in some parts and those were easy for us to sing. I had a lot of fun. The backgrounds behind the lyrics were usually completely unrelated to the song, so that was pretty funny. We stayed for an hour and my throat was so tired at the end!

We walked around for about a while longer and ate delicious crepes that could be filled with fruit, red beans, chocolate, ice cream, and/or cake!

We also went to a store that was like a cross between Michaels, Pottery Barn, and Office Depo so Kyung Ha could buy the ribbons and flowers she needed to complete a diaper cake she was making for a friend’s baby shower. I think it is a really cute idea. I assumed it was a Korean thing, but she said that she got the idea from her time in the US. Here is a picture of the unfinished cake:

Kelly and I bought thank-you cards and just looked around the store. The store had a pretty eclectic collection of things, including scientific glassware:

Here, and at another store we went to later, I noticed that a lot of things had gratuitous French or English. Notebooks and other items tend to have cheerful and happy slogans on them, like "Do your best!" or "Fighting Spirit!" I really like that.

We also went to a photo booth place. There were many many booths that you could take photos at. You got to take 6 photos and then edit them by adding in sparkles and designs and animals.

Then we went and got manicures. The manicurist thought it was funny or interesting that my arm hair was blonde instead of black like the majority of Koreans. I really liked my nails. For most of the year I rock climb or play water polo so I have to keep my nails short, but this summer was a good time to have nice nails.

Finally we went to dinner at Pizza Hut. Now, in the US Pizza Hut is often sort of dirty and cheap and really greasy. Here Pizza Hut is a nice, upscale restaurant. They have a yummy salad bar and yogurt bar and the pizza was not nearly as greasy as it is in the US. It also had crust stuffed with cheese and sweet potato. In Korean, Pee-ja Mah-she-so-yo! (Pizza is delicious!)

After dinner we met Kyung Ha’s parents at a nearby coffee shop and they drove us back to their home in the country. We picked up some beverages to drink first and then when we arrived they also served us some homemade rice alcohol. It is similar to makoli but while the sediment is kept in makoli it is removed for this rice alcohol so it is clear instead of cloudy. They both majored in food science and they really like to experiment in making their own food. Kyung Ha said they tried making ketchup once, and that it turns out orange and watery without all of the preservatives and things modern companies add. They said they would not try making the rice alcohol again because though it was delicious, it was also too much work!
They served us nuts and fruits while we sat and drank with them. Nuts and fruits are pretty expensive here so it was a special treat for us.

Kyung Ha let us sleep in her bed while we were there which was really kind of her. It had a soft mattress instead of a hard ground
Their house is unusual in that it is two floors. Traditionally, Korean houses have only one floor because of their underfloor heating system. Their bathroom was similar to other Korean bathrooms I’ve seen, with a hose shower and no tub, but they had hot water and a shower curtain, two things I like in a bathroom!
The next morning we got up really early so that we could go to a World Expo being held in Gyeongju, a town two hours from Daegu. A family friend had given Mr. and Mrs. Lee a pair of tickets to give to Kelly and I. First, we had bibimbap and bean sprout soup for breakfast. I liked being able to choose how much of each topping to use.

Afterwards Kyung Ha and her mom drove us to through the countryside to the train station in Daegu. I’m sorry I don’t have more pictures of the countryside; it was very beautiful but it is difficult to take good photos from a moving car, so here is the view from Kyung Ha’s window instead.

Kyung Ha’s home is surrounded by farmland in a little valley. Driving up out of the valley we could see how the green mountains were surrounding the little town and it was really beautiful and picturesque. We drove by a river for a while and I was amazed at how many people were out and about when it was still barely 7 am on a Sunday.

Before we left Kyung Ha and her mom gifted us with some delicious steamed buns stuffed with red beans to eat on our trip and Mrs. Lee even bought the tickets for the train to Gyeongju for us! They were so generous.

Next blog I’ll tell you about the World Expo!

Carly Bond