Thursday, February 4, 2016

Chicago the Korean Edition

After a summer filled with Milwaukee adventures with Hue and some of his friends it was finally time to venture across state lines and show the boys a bit of what our neighbors to the south have to offer.  My friend Shaun (fellow Buksamer) was coming home for a visit, bringing with him his new Korean wife 미진, which of course called for a party. Shaun had invited both Caitlin and myself, both so we could meet his wife and have a little reunion of our own.  We figured this was the perfect excuse for a weekend trip to Chicago and wanted to bring Hue and his friend Jun along, thankfully Shaun didn't mind.

Caitlin came down to Milwaukee early Saturday morning and after picking up the boys we were on our way.  Shaun lives in the northwest suburbs of the city, so the drive wasn't too long and we were soon in his backyard, meeting family, eating food and of course drinking a few beers.  It was different seeing Shaun in his family setting, and while he fit in with friends and family just fine, it was clear that part of him was still in Korea.  The boys were amazed by the seemingly endless supply of American snacks, not to mention the delicious catered Mexican fare that was for lunch, I had a hard time pulling them away from the snack table.  Aside from eating and socializing we also introduced the boys to 'bags' (cornhole, beantoss or whatever else you may call it), but once we transitioned they also didn't want to leave that game. Eventually though we said our goodbyes, for we still had lots to do during our visit.

Stop two, and what we thought might be the highlight of the trip was dinner at an (according to reviews) delicious Korean, San Soo Gab San in Lincoln square Chicago.  You could feel the excitement in the car as we drove nearer to our destination, and not only from the two natives, Caitlin and I were equally as excited.  As soon as we walked in the door I thought Hue might have a heart attack as he sighed, "아!! 냄새, 냄새!!" He was, of course, excited about the smell, the distinct waft of Korean BBQ permeating the air.  As we were being seated, while ordering and throughout the night Hue chatted with our servers, likely expressing his excitement at finding a taste of home after four months of American food, and explaining who the silly white girl next to him was.  A highlight for me came when I spoke my small sampling of Korea and our waitress commented that I spoke with 'Gyeongsang dialect' ~ you got that right, Gumi girl and proud of it.

The boys probably could've stayed and ate all night, but we had more things we still wanted to do.  Our next mission, one that would have been simple were we actually in Korea was to find a noraebang. Caitlin and I had mapped out a few beforehand but we weren't sure if we'd have success getting in.  Sure enough, the first one we visited wouldn't admit anyone under 21 seeing as they served alcohol on the premise.  Caitlin and I were annoyed but I can only imagine how frustrated the boys must have been, coming from Korea where they could legally drink or easily do so even if not of age, to America where the rules and regulations were never in their favor.  We left disappointed but were not ready to give up, there had to be another opinion, and there was!  We called ahead and explained our situation first, not all of us were 21 but we also didn't plan on ordering any drinks, and thankfully this time we found success.  I only went to a noraebang once with Hue in Korea, but he must not have sang that much because he had some talent he was hiding! Both him and Jun amazed me with their, not only singing, but also rapping abilities.  Almost every song Hue sang he altered his voice to sound exactly like the artist, Leesaang being one of my favorites.

Again, we could have stayed all night, but being Chicago we were aware that our bill was probably racking up faster than anticipated so we decided to call it a night after a few hours.  Instead of shelling out for a hotel room, and in order to have a full Korean experience we decided to spend the night at King Spa in Niles, Illinois.  I wasn't sure how authentic the spa would be, but after paying and entering the woman's room I realized it was spot on, and gorgeous!  The baths were already closed for cleaning so we changed into our awesome loungewear and made our way to the co-ed area. There were people scattered everywhere to sleep, the movie room, lounge area and the designated sleeping rooms.  There wasn't much else to do and I was exhausted so I grabbed a corner path of floor and crossed my fingers from sleep.  I awoke a few hours later roasting and decided I had to move, by this time some people had left already so I was lucky to find an open recliner in the movie room, earplugs and face mask back in place and I was out cold.  Oversleeping the rest of my group I didn't have as much time in the baths in the morning, but enjoyed it none the less.

Just when I thought the excitement had come to an end I remembered what our plan for the morning was; our next stop wasn't far, in fact it was right next store at H-mart.  We promised the boys a market full of Korean goodies, and one more delicious meal at the cafe, what we didn't realize though was that the market also had Korean fried chicken. The boys excitement for chicken was almost as high as my excitement for Hyejangguk, okay no they were probably more excited than I was, overall though everyone was in a great mood. After eating it was time for shopping, filling our carts with all the tastes of home (or second home).  Again Hue was slightly disappointed at his inability to buy alcohol, but being the nice 누나 I am helped him out a bit.  Eventually we pulled ourselves away from the mart and started the drive home, but we weren't quite ready to call it a weekend. Caitlin recalled there was a Cafe Bene in the area, so we had one final stop before admitting it was the end.

This weekend, obviously, brought back some feelings for Korea.  It reminded me of the many things I absolutely love about this country, brought me closer to my friends and memories from my first time living here and ultimately may have encouraged my return.  Sitting here in Andong, six months later, I'm not sure if I should be thankful for that effect or not.  I've started a new life here, and although it's vastly different than the one I led before, it's still an interesting one.  Korea is changing, or maybe it's me that's transformed, after all I have done some things since I left. Anyway, Hue will be returning home in a few months and I cannot wait to go explore together, this time with him as my host! 

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