Every year, the Fulbright Korea program hosts a Thanksgiving dinner in Seoul for ETAs, inviting various guests from the embassy (and other important personnel). This year, I’d been debating whether or not to make the trip, as going to Seoul is both far and expensive and I’d have to be there multiple weekends in December. However, there was also a brief meeting for Infusion scheduled for that Sunday (the dinner being Saturday evening), so I decided I might as well go. And going somewhere for free turkey and pie is never a bad idea.
On Saturday my train left at 10:20am, but I arrived at Busan station almost an hour and a half early. It’s something I find myself doing a lot these days, simply to get out of my homestay. And with the GRE in early December and this month being the first time I’m trying NaNoWriMo, I always have something to do. I sat at a cafe where the barista looked tired and grumpy, and when I asked if they had brunch, she simply said, “no” with a frown. But I’d already made the decision to sit at this cafe and liked the ambiance of the place, so I consciously worked to not let it bother me. I tried to smile at her, both when ordering and when picking up my drink. I’m not always able to be this way, but in that moment it was well grounded enough in my own contentment to where someone else’s negativity couldn’t affect me. Inner peace and all that.
I was able to sip my latte and write right up until my KTX train arrived, not because I got there early enough to get through the long lines, but because I’m now using the Korail app! This means I can buy train tickets on my phone and not bother with standing in line to exchange my reservation for a ticket. Being completely in Korean, it was difficult to navigate the app at first, especially since the only guides I found online were for the old version of the app, but in the end I succeeded! Actually, I thought I’d been able to make an account, but it turns out I can only sign in as a guest.
Point #1: if you’re using your Korean phone number, enter your name EXACTLY as it appears in your phone company’s records, even if your name is IN ALL CAPS. (Good thing I still had those documents to reference, but if you don’t, your name is mostly likely in this format: LAST NAME, FIRST NAME MIDDLE NAME.)
Point #2: You’ll have to use the guest sign-in, which in Korean is 미등록고객객. Under the login screen, go to the third and final tab to use your phone number (휴대전화 로그인) and enter it in the first box. In the second box you make up any password you want – I use one that’s 5 numbers so that it’s consistent with the format of the second password they ask for later. Then hit the dark grey 미등록고객객 button!
Point #3: You’ll be taken to the guest sign-up screen, where you enter your name (whatever you want it to be, but not too long – I just use 모니카, my first name spelled out in hangul), phone number (yes, again) and password (this time it has to be 5 digits and all numbers).
Here are screenshots of the first log-in screen and guest sign-up screen:
Thanksgiving in Seoul
I arrived at Seoul around 1pm and went to get lunch. Craving a chicken sandwich, I went into what I thought was McDonald’s, and was surprised to see that they only had a spicy chicken sandwich. I bought it anyway and then got a call from Arria, who was coming to pick me up so we could go to her place together. I rushed out, learned that she wasn’t actually there yet, and decided to go back into eat. This time I did go into McDonalds, but the layout looked slightly different than before. Only slightly. I sat down anyway and dug into my meal. It wasn’t until I was almost halfway finished that I realized everyone around me had wrappers and cups with a different color and design. I looked more closely at my meal and finally realized…I had bought this from the Lotteria right next door. And now I was sitting in the MCDONALD’S, eating a meal I’d bought from their competitors next door. Looking around, I also realized, there ARE a lot more foreigners here. And hey, it turns out the layout really was different…because this is a DIFFERENT STORE. Shamefully, I glanced over at the Lotteria, hoping that all their seats were full so it looked like I had an excuse to be here, eating Lotteria in a McDonald’s. It did seem pretty full. So I awkwardly finished my meal. Only one guy seemed to notice my mistake. I avoided making eye contact with him.
But onto the main course and away from my embarrassing escapades! The afternoon went by quickly at Arria’s place, and besides we had to dress professionally to go to the dinner where we’d be stuffing ourselves with American fare. I’ll just repeat that, we had to be business professional to eat turkey. Business professional clothing only stretches so far. Oh the sacrifices we make for Fulbright.
This year the dinner was held on the Yongsan American military base! We ate at the Dragon Hill Lodge, which normally does Fulbright’s Thanksgiving catering, but this year also hosted us. There was some culture shock when someone went to charge their phone and found that the American power sockets. As predicted, I was too busy eating to get any good pictures in. The meal was a buffet, which doesn’t make for a very attractive-looking plate. You can’t even see the turkey. But rest assured that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Other than the dinner, there were a few performances from fellow ETAs, singing, dancing and piano. It was a pleasant time, but over too soon!