Monday, November 29, 2010

My very first couch surfing experience...

During my research of my round the world trip, I stumbled onto this interesting website called
This is what they write about their organization.  "CouchSurfing is an international non-profit network that connects travelers with locals in over 230 countries and territories around the world. Since 2004, members have been using our system to come together for cultural exchange, friendship, and learning experiences. Today, over a million people who might otherwise never meet are able to share hospitality and cultural understanding.
Our mission as an organization is to create inspiring experiences: cross-cultural encounters that are fun, engaging, and illuminating. These experiences take many forms. CouchSurfing's initial focus was on hosting and "surfing" (staying with a local as a guest in their home). Alongside these core experiences, we now also facilitate a growing array of activities and events.
We have a vision of a world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter. Each CouchSurfing experience shared by our members brings us closer to that vision."
I was so fascinated about what I read but at the same time extremely apprehensive about spending the night and staying with a complete stranger.  In this world, and especially being a woman, one can never be too safe so I continued to research more and asked around.  I have heard nothing but positive reviews.  In my quest to live outside of the realm that I am normally comfortable with, I decided to go for it.
Traveling for 5 months can be quite costly if you are not staying with someone.  This will give me the opportunity to meet amazing, well-traveled, cultured people that have a passion for diversity and exploration as I do and stay on their couch or spare room for free.  They can help me with places to go, where to eat and any travel tips.  In exchange, I can share my experiences and eventually open my couch to them when they go to Chicago after my long journey!  
Tom Hoyt was the first to accept my request to stay in his home over the weekend in Seoul.  He was born and raised in Connecticut, lived in NYC and is now currently living and teaching in Seoul, Korea.  He also has the travel bug and has been all over the world including India, South America and Antarctica!  I had my friend Elaine come with me as well.  He was not home but gave us excellent directions and left the key for us.  Imagine that.  A complete stranger opening up his house to someone he has never met and just left the keys.  This gesture of kindness is still hard for me to grasp because is not typical in my experience.

Once we arrived, he called and said we can relax, freshen up, eat his food, and if we were interested, meet him up for a couch surfers social event where we could meet other couch surfers.  We headed out and finally met our host along with 20 other couch surfers who host people and have surfed other couches all across the world.  I got to meet intelligent, diverse and fascinating people.  I can't even tell you how blown away I was with this whole concept.  This was my first experience but this will definitely not be the last.  I gave him my favorite Korean Binch cookies and some Korean liquor as a gift.  I swear that these cookies must be laced with something because I find myself waking up at 6 in the morning craving these delicious delights made of biscuit and chocolate.

Thank you Tom for breaking me into the couch surfing community.  I will forever be grateful to you and your generosity. 

The next day, I hung out with Elaine in Myeong-Dong in Seoul before I said goodbye to her.  She had to go back to Pyeongtaek since she had to teach the next day.  It was an area filled with street vendors, food vendors and a lot of historical landmarks.  

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Living with Elaine in Pyeongtaek..... What an adventure!!

I would have to say my experience with living Elaine has been quite an adventure....

Some highlights:
1. almost poisoned her and made her throw up all night.  I accidentally sprayed bed mite spray with cinnamon n the hotel bed.  I forgot she is sickly allergic to any form of cinnamon.  Oops.

2. She took me to the by the Osan military base and showed me where the Filipino "juicy" girls worked in the bars.

3.  She took me to the  downtown Pyeongtaek area where the Korean prostitutes were displayed in glass windows like mannequins while Korean only men took their pick and were solicited down this entire strip.  I also discovered that a barber shop pole does not mean you can cut your hair there!!  It means that prostitutes are in and working when the pole is on!!  Oh my!!  We were lurking in the night so we could discretely capture these pictures without getting caught!

4.  almost poisoned poor Elaine a second time.  I was preparing my clothes with permethrin (solution to fend off the malaria mosquitos in India) and spraying them on her back porch.  Her face accidentally touched solution and her nose started to burn!!  She was in the bathroom rinsing her face off for 10 minutes.  I'm so sorry Elaine.

5.  I decorated her apartment and bought her the most amazing new curtains to make her feel more at home and update her pad.  Yes, I actually paid for this beautiful fabric rather than finding it on the street! :)

6.  Got sick this morning but I don't know if it's from inhaling that crazy mosquito repellent or from drinking soju (a clear, distilled alcohol beverage native to Korea ) or was it the Hite Beer (#1 top selling golden beer in Korea) with our delicious Korean BBQ!!  Yummy!

7.  The best is scavenging the streets and picking up furniture for her fellow teachers for their apartments!  The teachers move here with absolutely nothing in their apartment.  New furniture is so outrageous and not affordable with a modest teacher salary so they are left to be creative and just recycle furniture that is often left on the street.

During my 6 day stay in Pyeongtaek, my friend Elaine had managed to find a mattress bed, a box spring, a desk with a glass table cover, and a shelf for her fellow teachers who had no furniture at all.  Elaine also had absolutely no furniture 3 months ago.  I have to say that her apartment is quite lovely and cozy considering everything piece of furniture was either a hand me down from a teacher who left or found on her local street corner.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A memorable night of window shopping in Pyeongtaek.

I picked up my friend from her school and she took me to downtown Pyeongtaek.

We went to this really cool restaurant she thought that I would love.  It was just my style.  It was dark and filled with lots of candles, pillows, curtains and brightly colored fabrics.  She was right.  I felt right at home here.

The staff did not speak much english so we continued to point to what we wanted to eat.  Elaine had some sort of past and I ordered a traditional breaded pork that seemed to be popularly served here in Korea.  Well, the food arrived and I was quite disappointed.  I would highly suggest coming here for a drink with a date because it's very romantic and cozy but maybe opt for a different restaurant prior to coming here.

After dinner she wanted to show me an area that was like a "red light district."  This was quite an unusual area and nothing that I have ever seen before.  This area was filled with nothing but korean prostitutes that serviced and catered only to Korean men.  The streets were lined back to back with store front windows.  Instead of mannequins, they were filled with actual korean prostitutes wearing next to nothing and posing in each window.  The korean men would go down the street and select the woman of their choice.  Behind these storefront windows were actual apartment and bed set ups for the men to handle their "business transaction".

Oh my gosh, I wanted to turn around because I felt like I should not be there but Elaine insisted that I go through the street and check it out.  I watched as the cars slowly drove by and the women all called out to the men, hoping to get picked.  Now you know me, I had to take a picture so you could see what I am talking about but I had to be quick and discrete.  I hear that the pimps and prostitutes usually chase out people with cameras but I HAD TO SHOOT THIS!!  Whoa!!!!  The prostitutes were freezing their butts off!  There was a little school girl outfit prostitute and for those who were into that, and different  kinds of outfits.  I took some pics of men being solicited by the girls.  I was told they do not service foreigners at all.   These Korean girls are only for Korean men.  If Americans or other foreigners want to get taken care of, they have to go to Songtan near the Osan Air Base where the (Filipino juicy girls) will hook them up.

I was scared when I took these pics for fear we would chased out or beat up but I was quick about it and then quickly left.

Sneaking around in the middle of night, trying to take pictures of these girls at work!