How Did You Like Korea? (It was awesome)

How did you like Korea?

The question most asked of me since returning to Canada

I never give a good answer because I always suspect they’re sadistically hoping that I hated it and I’ll tell them horrible stories about the other side of the world, confirm my undying love for Canada and reaffirm their comfort in never leaving the country, except that one time they took a cruise through the Caribbean.

I smile, I shrug, I say, “It was great,” and I leave it at that.

A ten minute bus ride from my apartment

But the truth is, I woke up most mornings (or afternoons: I worked at a hagwon/private school), looked outside at the mountains peeking out from the crowds of apartment buildings, and thought, “How awesome is my life?”

Why you should go

It’s super, duper awesome! But let me explain:

People, people, people

Have you ever found yourself sitting down to dinner with a collection of Brits, Americans, Canadians, South Africans, Aussies, Koreans, and Kiwis? Because that was pretty much every Thursday night for me. It fulfilled a long-held dream to have friends from all over the world.

People are constantly coming to and leaving Korea and this forces you to make quick connections. It might seem like it’s all very shallow, but in spite of my now large and international circle of acquaintances, I also made deep friendships with people I only saw face-to-face for about six months of my entire life. I know them better than people I sat next to in high school every day for four years.

You can party Gangnam-style for real

Disposable Income

It’s true I wasn’t making millions. I was barely making tens of thousands. But life in Korea was rent-free and even with my student loan payments, this made the living easy. I spent my weekends busing it around Korea with IFX, a travel group based in Incheon, run by the very cool and laid-back Jeremy Giroir.

I also took off for day trips with coworkers and friends because it was cheap and fun. I saw cherry blossom festivals, huge burial mounds, a volcano, these absolutely awful “banana” spiders, stepped into the demilitarized part of North Korea, went to an arboretum in a snowstorm (this I would not recommend), played on inflatables at a mud festival and a thousand other small moments that would mean nothing to you but are worth the world to me.

Maybe I would have made more money if I’d finished that Canadian Securities Course they offered in my first job out of university, but I can’t say that I regret a single dollar that I didn’t earn because I went to Korea.

What do you want to do with your life?

I had this crazy idea when I was nineteen that I was going to figure this out in university.

I didn’t.

How cute are kindergarten kids?

My undergrad confused me more than anything. I was involved in Girl Guides, an outdoors club, a sorority, worked at a bookstore and a department store and studied English and History full-time. None of those things was exactly what I wanted to do and I used to get depressed and frustrated trying to figure it all out.

Then I graduated and worked at a securities firm because they needed someone and I was available. I hated this.

So, I went to Korea thinking that I didn’t care much for small children and the worst that would happen was I could come back and try to get back into the finance industry. Or go back to school. Or something.

But a wonderful, amazing thing happened:

Try Stuff Out and Get Adventurous

First of all, I really like working with kids. They have a wonderful sense of humour and playfulness that is refreshing in a world where everyone takes everything too seriously. I may never have realized this if I hadn’t gone to Korea and been fortunate enough to work with and around passionate teachers.
Secondly, I joined the Seoul Writers Workshop and started gaining some confidence that someone, somewhere was going to read what I wrote. I just had to put it out there.

Some of the people who have gone to this workshop are crazy talented, and I got to witness their writing process over the weeks and months. It was fascinating.

Thirdly – and this is the best part – I just started trying out anything that sounded remotely interesting. I learned to play netball, I started doing spoken word poetry, I went to trivia nights, watched baseball, hockey and soccer (football) games, did street painting, went to festivals, wrote half of a really terrible novel, went to film festivals, and generally had a great time. Some things I did over and over again and some things I abandoned pretty quickly because they didn’t fit for me.

One of many reasons to enjoy baseball in Korea

Of course I could have done these things in Canada, but I didn’t. Being around people who also live in the spirit of adventure and new experiences means there is always someone to try something out with. And no one will think you’re odd for trying stuff out on your own.

Maybe you shouldn’t go: Some people should just stay home

No, really. The most annoying thing when you’re living abroad is the asshole who talks about how much better things are back home. Or complains that not enough people speak English. Or speaks about Koreans as a homogenous group (as in, “They think this,” “They feel that,” etc).

And it’s ok to have low points. I had days when Korea drove me crazy. But I still woke up amazed that I lived on the other side of the world from where I was born and raised.

Some people are just more comfortable at home. That’s ok. There are different ways to see the world – you don’t have to live abroad.

If you don’t want to go: I don’t actually think your life sucks

I genuinely don’t feel a great tug toward motherhood, home ownership or working in an office. But ten years ago I didn’t feel a tug toward doing homework, spending time with children or wearing sweatpants in public. I totally do all of those things now, often with pleasure.

So, while I don’t envy your life of marriage or parenthood, I believe that it’s valuable and I may want it one day. Right now I value working on a career that isn’t possible in my hometown and meeting people from all over the world.

And you get to hang out with “cool” people

If I get paid less than I would working a similar job in Canada, I’m content with that choice and I do actually have it “together,” in as much as any 28-year-old with an Arts degree can.

The Verdict:

It’s such an individual choice, but if it’s something you’ve been thinking about doing, then do it. Go to Korea, go to Japan, go to Mexico, go wherever your imagination takes you. You can always come back and work in finance if that’s what you really want to do.

Your loves, your wants, your desires change and develop with each new experience, so take in as many as you can. If you feel stuck and stagnant where you are, then take that plunge and move forward.

Why give up the chance to wake up each morning thinking about how awesome your life is?

Follow me @SabrinaNemis

Of Kittens and Hagwons

Frankie the Cat, by Shauna Smith

Turning my iPod up as loud as I can stand, I’m ignoring everyone else in the staffroom. Realizing that both of my coworkers are staring at me with wide eyes and raised eyebrows, I start in surprise.

“Sabrina,” Kyung-Ha says, “is there a cat?”

Looking from my co-teachers to the cardboard box under Shauna’s desk and back again, I realize that the jig is up.

* * *

“No, Sabrina,” my mom says on the phone. “Don’t do this to me. No. No. No.”

Watching me make my overseas phone call, Shauna’s eyes are round and worried. Not wanting to be involved, Maria and Clare have gone home early. It’s just Shauna, Asia, Emile and me shifting and pacing in a loose huddle. Strangers are barely looking at us as they run up and down the stairs, going in and out of the batting cages.

She was so little!

Just under the steps, someone has laid out a newspaper. There’s a carton of milk and a spoon with just a dribble in it. Not paying the least bit of attention to the spoon or the milk is a tiny orange kitten, no bigger than a ball of yarn, meowing as loud as it can. With distorted K-pop music blaring at each carnival ride, glaring lights flashing and cheap fireworks going off the side of the pier, most people find it easy to ignore.

Before leaving Canada, I promised my mom I wouldn’t acquire any pets. She already has two cats and a dog and she heard a story about a girl who spent hundreds of dollars bringing a dog home from China. Under no circumstances am I to bring this cat home.

“Mom, it’s so small,” I say. “And I’m not bringing it home to you. Shauna’s bringing it home to her mom.”

My mom once nurtured a kitten back from near-death when the mother abandoned it, so I’m sure she can recommend a strategy for saving this one. She says that if we absolutely can’t find the mother, we should check out a pet store and find something called “kitten milk” and feed it slowly with an eye-dropper.

A girl working at the 7-11 generously donates an empty box to our cause and we find a taxi to take us to HomePlus: it’s after nine on a Tuesday and most pet stores are already closed. The kitten mews all through the ride and Emile tries to cover the sound with his own mewing.

Wondering briefly what the taxi driver thinks of foreigners who meow, I remember that my friend Yuri once told me that many Koreans don’t want pet cats because they are considered bad luck. This makes me worry that we won’t be able to find what we want, so I call Chris to see if he can do a Google search on what to feed unweaned kittens. He gives us a short list of ingredients and we head inside.

Feeding Frankie

We quickly learn that HomePlus is not equipped to deal with the rescue of abandoned street cats: there is no kitten milk. Buying the ingredients Chris suggests, Shauna and I wish our friends goodnight and head back to our apartment building. The kitten’s mews are frantic now, but this time neither of us bothers to try and cover the sound for the driver.

It turns out that taking care of a kitten this young isn’t that different from caring for a newborn baby. She needs to be fed every few hours and this presents both the challenge of uninterrupted sleep and going to work. We’ve never explicitly been told we can’t bring pets to school, but it doesn’t seem likely that the kitten, newly named Frankie, will be welcome.

Our office is a narrow room with desks lining the walls. Serving as an irritating obstacle course, a “craft” table and ten chairs fill the rest of the room, forcing seven teachers and the occasional student to navigate with flexibility and gentle pushing. Shauna brings Frankie in a cardboard box and tucks her under her desk without anyone noticing.

For the first part of the day, Shauna manages to time her feedings so that Frankie is asleep while she’s teaching. Once the kindergarteners go home though, she starts teaching her six hour stretch with no real break.

She tries to feed her in the short interval between classes, but it must not be enough because some time after I put my headphones on, Frankie wakes up hungry and probably unimpressed by her cardboard prison. When my coworkers ask if there’s a cat and I hear her mewing, I don’t see how I can deny it.

Asia with Frankie

Kyung-Ha and Helena take turns holding and petting Frankie, who fits comfortably in one hand. When Shauna walks in between classes, she stops, but everyone else coos over the kitten: it’s hard to dislike something so adorable.

For all the problems I have with my hagwon, this is probably the moment when I most appreciate our lack of clear communication. They comment that there is a cat, but no one tells Shauna to take Frankie home. They simply accept Shauna as a working cat-mother, bringing her baby to work when she can’t get a sitter and we simply accept their weirdly progressive views on cat-mother workplace policy.

Frankie in Canada

If you’re wondering how Frankie is doing, she’s all grown up and lives in Canada with Shauna!

Anyone else have experiences adopting pets abroad? How did it go?

Read about the great Teddy Bears vs Dinosaurs debate!

And follow me on Twitter: @SabrinaNemis

Fighting the Cockroach Invasion

It was kinda like this one. But grosser.
Used under Creative Commons from Anil Jadhav

It’s the biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen. Its black body and wriggling antennae jolt me out of the stupor of taking a two am pee.

I can’t scream. If I scream, it’ll scuttle away into my apartment and I might never see it again. But I’ll know it’s there, watching me.

I need to finish peeing and not make any sudden movements. Not taking my eyes off of it as I stand slowly and pull my pyjama bottoms back up, I watch it walk on the edge of my bookcase, just past the bathroom doorway.

Don’t judge me: half of those books were there when I moved in! The shoes are totally mine though

It must be aware of me, but contentedly moves its feelers about, possibly eating the press board at the back of my bookcase: apparently they eat everything. Pressing myself against the opposite side of the door frame, I move as fluidly as I can to get out of the bathroom.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen cockroaches in my apartment. From what I understand – and in Korea, this sometimes isn’t much – the building is infested. Before this, however, the sightings were rare and the bugs were tiny and yellowish.

Tonight though, this bug is as long as my thumb and looks capable of biting or procreating. Wanting to keep the biting and the procreating in my apartment to a minimum, something will have to be done.

Once through the doorway, I walk quickly toward the bottle of RAID that Michael, the teacher who lived here before me, thoughtfully left behind. I creep back to the cockroach, half-afraid it’ll be gone.

It isn’t.

I shudder, then aim the RAID and spray. The body drops to the ground, its legs moving wildly and I shriek once, but keep spraying. I don’t stop until its legs stop twitching.

Then it looked kinda like this. But grosser.
Used under Creative Commons from Eric Molina

Its overturned body appears half the size it did two minutes ago. Staring in disgust, I can’t bring myself to pick it up, not even with tissues. It could be playing dead. Hesitating, I leave the light on as I go back to bed.

Spending the rest of the night reading about the habits and life cycle of Asian cockroaches, I go back every twenty minutes to make sure it’s still there.

It is.

After the sun comes up, I finally fall asleep, exhausted. Letting it serve as a warning to others, I decide to leave the body there. Let all cockroaches know: if we’re going to share this apartment, they’d better be a lot better at hiding than this fool.

What kind of vermin have battled at home? Are you braver than me?

When not battling the creature in my apartment, I was relating to my foreign coworkers. Read more in English is Crazy: Full Stop

And follow me on Twitter!@SabrinaNemis

How PIFF Made Me Love Romantic Comedies

A group of people have been sitting silently and uncomfortably on a couch for what might be five minutes, but feels like an hour. They’re each holding a glass of tomato juice with a piece of celery* on the edge, barely sipping and trying not to look at one another. The celery falls into one woman’s glass. She says, “Mine fell in.”

The man sitting next to her looks up and says, “Mine, too.”

It’s just too much. Looking at Alex next to me, I start giggling and can’t stop. This is the moment when I wonder why the hell I ever agreed to get up at five in the morning to go to a film festival on the other side of the country.

* * *

We leave Incheon as soon as the subway opens, then take the KTX from Seoul. Getting immediately onto the subway in Busan, we head to the ticket master.

Who is this woman anyway?

Except, not immediately because all seven of us assume it’s at Haeundae Beach and that turns out not to be true. One of the hazards of speaking limited Korean in Korea is that directions get messed up sometimes.

We buy t-shirts and see sand sculptures of supposedly famous people before we’re even sure we’ll get to see a film.

When we make it to the right location, we stand around a board listing films with tickets still available, and try to find something that will accommodate seven very different tastes.

This is irrelevant anyway, because by the time we stand in line and are ready to pay, the film we’ve chosen is sold out. Alex makes a quick decision on the two films we’ll be seeing today: Archipelago and Here Comes the Bride.

Alex, with the tickets and high hopes

Archipelago is a word I have never been able to say properly and it’s a film I can’t bring myself to like.

The premise seems to be that a boring family that can’t communicate decide to rent a house on an island (part of an archipelago, you might even say, if you can say this word) and make us watch them fail to communicate in cramped rooms with poor lighting. Also, there are extended shots of the wind blowing trees at night. There’s a lot of symbolism that I both understand and could not care less about.

By the time the final and most exciting scene occurs – a helicopter arrives to take these miserable people home – most of us have fallen asleep for parts of the film and Mike’s already given up on gritting his teeth in frustration and left. We get up in a daze and quietly leave the theatre.

None of us is a romantic comedy fan and we’re no longer excited about being at the Pusan International Film Festival. Heading to the open-air showing of Here Comes the Bride, we agree that if it’s even half as tedious as the film we just watched, we’re leaving to drink beer at Family Mart.

Approaching the venue, there’s a pretty, but generic night view of the city just past the vendors. Yelling children run around, electric lights give a carnival feel and the smell of street meat is reminding me that I’m starving. The crowd’s hum is optimistic, but we keep our expectations low.

These people are not impressed

Here Comes the Bride is ridiculous. A simultaneous eclipse and car collision cause several wedding guests to switch bodies with ensuing hilarity. The ending – without ruining it for you – is equally incredible. But it’s funny, it’s relate-able and every single scene moves the plot forward instead of ruminating about a grand theme the writer believes is more important than silly things like narrative.

It’s possible that if I hadn’t hated Archipelago, I would have hated Here Comes the Bride. But it’s also possible that predictable cheese told in a compelling way is still better than artsy scenes shot to explore a theme instead of telling a story.

*Or a lemon, as Alex Gould remembers, but why would you put lemon with tomato juice? That doesn’t sound right to me at all.

Was Archipelago your favourite film ever? What did you like about it? Because, seriously, if anyone can give it some redeeming qualities for me, I’d appreciate it.

Been to any film festivals in Korea? Elsewhere? Did you enjoy them overall? Memorably bad experiences (those are always the best ones)?

Read about the divisive debate Alex and I have in  Teddy Bears vs Dinosaurs

And follow me on Twitter: @SabrinaNemis

…And Then, There’s Bravery

Good luck picking it up with your chopsticks Emile

Tentacles are writhing in the plate in front of us and we’re going to have to eat them.

Actually, we’ve been looking all evening for a live octopus. It’s just that the reality is a little more alive than I expected.

Walking by the sea, we’re surrounded by young Korean soldiers, couples lighting fireworks off the rocks and cheap plastic inflatables that you pull around on a string. Ignoring all of them, we walk from restaurant to restaurant asking for sanakji.

Coming off the high of surviving a terrifying Viking Ship ride, we’re all confident that not only will there be live octopus, we will want to eat it when we find it. At least, I’m confident.

Three times, owners nod and smile, ushering us into their restaurants with promises of sanakji. Three times they then tell us there isn’t any octopus on a Tuesday, and maybe they hope we’ll be hungry enough to stay and eat at their restaurant anyway. But this has nothing to do with hunger.

View from Wolmido

When we finally climb the stairs of the first restaurant on the dodgy end, we’ve decided that if they don’t have octopus, we’ll just eat something else. The adrenaline of our near-death experience is wearing off and hunger is starting to encroach on the desire to eat something weird.

But for once, there actually is an octopus in one of their tanks and they’re going to chop it up for us. While sanakji is referred to as “live octopus”, it’s more of a “recently dead octopus.” When ordered, the octopus is chopped up alive and served on a plate, its muscles still jerking.

Crawling over itself, the oil-covered pieces of tentacle are hard to pick up with metal chopsticks. They resist and pull away or slide off, back onto the plate.

Shauna is watching me when I finally get a piece into my mouth. I remember that Asia told me to be sure to chew it thoroughly because the suckers can attach themselves to your throat and choke you.

I bite down hard and I feel the muscle tense and the suckers grip the inside of my cheek. Shauna winces. I chew again until the muscle relaxes and the tentacle is in smaller, deader pieces. I swallow. I try a smile and look back at the plate. There’s an awful lot left.

Picking up a pair of chopsticks, Shauna pokes them onto the plate. The first tentacle she tries to pick up crawls away from her. She pulls her hand back and puts the chopsticks down, “I can’t. I can’t eat that.”

Maybe if we’d found the octopus right away, that sense of bravery from surviving the Viking Ship would have carried us all through this meal. Instead, Maria also shakes her head. She’ll stick with the soup.

But I persist: this octopus did not die so that I could take one bite and waste the rest. Asia and I eat as much as we can, each bite a fight against a small piece of octopus. It seems to fight for its life, even with its life already over. The experience is primal and carnivorous and totally weird.

At the end of the meal, we step outside into the glow of a nighttime carnival and go immediately toward the carts of street food. My act of bravery complete, hunger is coming on strong and those tentacles were not particularly filling. What I need now is a fried potato on a stick. Or ice cream. Nothing with any sentience, please.

What weird food have you tried? Anything you refused to try?

Read about other, less slimy acts of bravery in There’s Bravery…

And follow me on Twitter: @SabrinaNemis

There’s Bravery…

The Wolmido Viking Ship: An Agent of Terror

We’re on a mission requiring bravery in the face of both terror and disgust and not everyone is going to make it. But I intend to last to the bitter, slimy end.

We arrive at Wolmido after work on a Tuesday evening, and other people rush to the flashier, better-painted Viking ships. But we know better. The one closest to the water, the ugliest of the the three is the one to go and test your mettle. We head there immediately.

Facing each other from across the ship, we fill the seats on either end. Purses placed on the side, lights are starting to come on as the sun goes down. Slinging the strap over our shoulders as an extra safety precaution, we pull the metal bar down over our laps.

Slowly the ship starts to swing, and we smile. The first time I get butterflies in my stomach on a downward swing, I cry out laughing.

This is the carnival ride I remember from teenage years, finding some excitement in a place eight hours from the nearest amusement park. I let go of the bar for an extra thrill.

When the ship is completely vertical, I hold the bar with one hand. I’m glad the strap is on, but I wish I’d checked to make sure that it wasn’t frayed or loose before the ride started.

The bar wobbles, though it never lets go. I imagine the faces of my friends on the opposite side if it did, our bodies flying toward their terrified grins.

Trust not the Wolmido Pirate

The Vikings brutally killed their enemies and I can hear a sadistic edge to the carnie’s voice as he calls out in Korean words I can’t understand. We scream as the ship goes past vertical and tilts us upside down.

Gripping the bar with both hands while we’re frozen in the air, Emile starts screaming in real terror. Our fear is only blunted by the pure joy of survival. If this bar lets go, I hope I’ll be unconscious before I hit anything on the downward swing.

Swinging down and back up, we watch our friends’ frozen smiles above us as they hang from their straps.

Slowing down, the ride returns to vertical and gradually horizontal positions, filling us with relief and disappointment. I both want to do it again right away and never again in my entire life.

Pulling the strap off me, my legs wobbling, I’m still stunned as we walk past the batting cages to the water. We made it through this first challenge, but I’m not sure if we can all live up to the next. Still reeling, muscles shaking, we begin our search for a restaurant serving live octopus.

Next week: ...And Then, There’s Bravery

Read a story of a holiday gone wrong in Happy Children’s Day! Part One

And follow me on Twitter: @SabrinaNemis

Lost and Found in the National Gallery

“Do you hear music?” she says and there it is, a faint choral sound. I can’t remember if I’ve ever heard music in a gallery before.

The Van Gogh: Up Close exhibit starts at three and we’ve lost my cousins. Looking around the gallery room Melissa and I wandered into, there are only strangers and security guards. Not knowing when or where I last saw Alain, Marc or Julianne, I’m not sure which direction to start in.

Parliament in Ottawa

“Where is it coming from?” Looking left, there’s a courtyard filled with trees and plants: the music is coming from that direction.

“Let’s go see,” she says. Following her into the courtyard, there’s a walkway around the plants, with doors leading off into different parts of the gallery. It’s my first time at the National Gallery of Canada and I want to look into each one. Instead, we follow the music.

In one of the doorways is a long blue hallway with a door at the end, on the left side. It’s open, but we can’t see through it. The floor ramps gently downward and we step forward. The music becomes distinct voices, singing Latin hymns. I stop. It sounds like choir practice.

“Are we allowed down here?” I whisper.

“The door’s open,” Melissa says and we continue creeping along.

Turning into the doorway at the end, we step into a church. Pillars reach up to vaulted ceilings and there’s an altar at the end, pushed against the far wall.

The pews are gone and standing in a circle are twelve black speakers, each playing a different type of voice. We drift into the centre, trying to look in all directions at once.

Also in the circle, closer to the altar, Marc, Alain and Julianne stand close together. Walking toward them, Marc smiles and says, “We knew you’d find us here eventually.”

How do you keep track of your fellow travelers while traveling (or do you)?

Read another story about getting lost in: The Art of Getting Lost: Jeju-Style

Follow me on Twitter: @SabrinaNemis

Finding Canadian Pride in Unlikely Places

I’m excited about being Canadian… really

“You’re not going to waste those on the kids are you?” Shauna says at school on Canada Day. Looking at the stack of temporary tattoos on my desk, I shrug. I was going to use them as rewards in my classes today, but I have ‘Canada’ pencils, too.

My students are always much more excited about Canada stuff than I am. They know about “ice” hockey, and that we have lots of snow, and that Kim Yuna’s coach is Canadian.

Shauna’s also more excited than me about our shared homeland, so I decide that if it’s important to her, I’ll save the tattoos. I stuff them in my purse to bring to the bar in Bupyeong later.

That night, wearing a t-shirt that says “Canadian Celebrity” and red shorts and shoes, I feel ready to pretend I’m excited about being from Canada, too. Setting aside a table at Underground, I put down the ‘Canada’ tattoos, a pair of kitchen scissors I’ll never see again, and a small cup of water.

“I’m not wearing a Canada tattoo,” Mike says when he arrives. He’s very proud to be American, and I see no reason to force anyone to wear a maple leaf on their face if they don’t want to. Others also seem hesitant, walking near the table, eyeing the tattoos, then moving on to the bathroom or the electronic dart board.

The first non-Canadians we convert are Kiwis wearing red shirts. Then South Africans join us. Soon, we’re all posing in front of a Canadian flag as J-Man, the bar owner turns on Canadian music: Joel Plaskett, Tragically Hip, Shania Twain, Justin Bieber.

More people arrive and the neat rectangular sheets of tattoos are cut into lopsided paper snowflakes. There’s a small crowd of people trying to find the perfect one to complement their outfits.

It’s unlike any Canada Day spent watching fireworks and slapping at mosquitoes in Timmins, Ontario. The bar is already out of Moosehead, the only Canadian beer I’ve ever seen in Korea. No big loss, in my opinion. The Littlest Hobo is projected onto the back wall of the bar and I explain to an Englishman what it is, if not why it’s playing. There’s barely room to move in between the waves of red and white clothing and tattoos. Even Mike has a maple leaf on his cheek now.

He’s proud to be Canadian!

A warm glow of beer-drinking (spreads) out through the bar, along with the tattoos, and so does a kind of pride in being Canadian. Never expecting to find it here, I’m even proud to sing every word of ‘Man! I Feel Like a Woman.’

I’m happy I didn’t waste the tattoos on the kids, happy I came to Korea, and happy I’m Canadian. And although I’m not sure the Founding Fathers would approve, I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate Canada Day than in Korea, in a basement bar with friends from all over the world.

When have you felt most proud of your country when you were abroad?

Read about less happy travel experiences in Deok Jeok Oh! Oh, God, Ow

And follow me on Twitter: @SabrinaNemis

But Why?

We’ve just thrown a French-fry covered hot dog in the gutter and I’m not sure if we should be more ashamed by our wastefulness or our cultural insensitivity.

Eating street food on the same corner, in nice weather

“Do you want to walk to McDonalds?” I offer.

“No, it’s fine,” Shauna says, her face still contorted. “I think we should just go home.”

Ten Minutes Earlier

Following the smell of fried food through narrow streets we walk over a carpet of night club fliers and cards for call girls. It’s too cold to walk to McDonalds and we made a pact to eat more healthily. Also, the taxi stand is closer.

Stepping onto the sidewalk on the main road, the cold wind slices through our winter jackets. A middle-aged woman is manning a food stand right in front of us. She’s the only one still open.

Shauna pulls her blue pea coat tighter and turns to me, “I’ll be just a minute.”

The light and steam from the food cart make it seem like a warm place to stand, but as we move farther away from the protection of the buildings on the side street, my teeth are actually chattering. The woman is wearing a puffy jacket, a fleece headband and warm-looking gloves. She isn’t shivering.

Shauna points to the last hot-dog-on-a-stick, the kind battered in French fries, “Hot dog, juseyo.”

Not wanting to take my hands out of my pockets, I don’t choose anything.

The woman puts the hot dog into a vat of hot oil and lets it sit and warm up. She holds up a bottle of ketchup and Shauna nods, “Ney.”

She holds up a shaker and Shauna nods again, “Ney.”

Pulling the hot dog out of the oil, the woman wraps a napkin around the stick and pours toppings over the French fries. She hands it over with a quick, “Gamsahamnida.”

At the crosswalk, Shauna takes a bite, stops, and looks at me.

“The other thing she asked me. I didn’t know what it was so I just said yes,” she says, her mouth still full. She chews, then swallows. “It was sugar.”

She takes another bite as we cross the street. Sugar covers every bit of ketchup. Ketchup covers every bit of French fry. Chewing one slow bite at a time, Shauna swallows and stops again, “I can’t eat this.”

We look back at the woman. We ‘re the only ones on the street tonight besides the taxi drivers. Neither one of us wants her to see us throw the food away: we come here all the time.

Public trash bins are hard to find in South Korea so walking up past a phone booth, Shauna tosses the remains into the gutter.

“Sugar,” I say, coming to the question that all expats ask themselves at some point, “But, why?”

Read about other cultural miscommunications in English is Crazy, Full Stop

And follow me on Twitter: @SabrinaNemis

Or, learn more about Korean street food at Waegook Tom’s blog

Teddy Bears vs Dinosaurs

Would you really take this man’s side?

The bus passes a billboard for a Teddy Bear museum featuring dinosaurs. Turning to Alex, I catch him just before he puts his headphones in. I wonder aloud what the deal is with Teddy Bear museums in Korea. They’re everywhere, from Seoul to Jeju and cover various time periods. Alex listens, resting his iPod on his leg, but not putting it away.

“Are they suggesting that Teddy Bears were there?” I say. Alex hasn’t said much during this rant, but I don’t feel like going to sleep and I don’t want to sit quietly for the next six hours as we drive through Sunday traffic to get back to Incheon. “Who do you think would have won in a battle between Teddy Bears and dinosaurs?”

Now he raises his eyebrows, “Obviously, it would have to be dinosaurs. Is that even a question?”

“But they can’t die,” I say. “Teddy Bears are like really cute zombies.”

“Sabrina, they can’t die because they’re not alive,” he says, but doesn’t pick up his MP3 player.

“You only think they aren’t alive because of the Teddy Bear Law,” I say. “They can’t let humans see them move. And there weren’t any people when dinosaurs were around.”

“I don’t think there were any Teddy Bears around, either.”

“I don’t know, that billboard seems to show differently,” he picks up his iPod at this and starts flipping through songs.

Teddy Bears are badass.

“Dinosaurs are bigger and stronger.”

“But Teddy Bears can’t die.”

“Because they’re not alive,” he says, putting one headphone in. “And even if they were, they’re not big enough to fight dinosaurs.”

“But they could create a Teddy Bear army. Sew themselves back together when they get ripped apart. Even a big dinosaur couldn’t fight off an endless horde.”

“I don’t think you understand how big dinosaurs are, Sabrina.”

Mike walks up the aisle, stepping over stray bags and feet.

“What are you talking about?” he asks, leaning against the seat in front of us.

“Whether Teddy Bears or dinosaurs would win in an epic battle,” I say.

“It has to be dinosaurs, right?” he says, looking from one of us to the other.

“Exactly,” Alex says.

“But Teddy Bears can’t die,” I start.

Mike raises an eyebrow, nods, then stands and walks back up the bus.

What do you think? Teddy Bears vs Dinosaurs: who would win?

Read more about adventures with Alex in Happy Children’s Day: Part Two

And follow me on Twitter: @SabrinaNemis