I’m already 1/4 of the way through my time here in Korea, 2 months down and I can’t believe it.
With Autumn well on its way, the hours of daylight may be getting shorter but the days sure are not. September was a grind and the off days seemed few and far between. A typical day (a.k.a. every day) for me went like this: 9:30-12:00 weight training, followed by team lunch. Then volleyball practice from 2:40-7:00, followed by team dinner. And to end the day treatment or therapy till around 9:30.
Since I figured out the public transportation a bit here, I decided to venture out on my own in Suwon several weeks ago. Funny how I never once figured out a campus bus in Champaign, Illinois, but I’ve learned which routes to take in South Korea. Little Liz is growing up. I got to explore a bit around Hwaseong Fortress, which was built in the 1790s and stretches for 6km, and it encloses much of the city of Suwon. There are 4 main gates, connected by paths with many gun towers, turrets, and pavilions.
There are many ancient palaces in Seoul, but it was nice to see this one outside of the tourist packed city. It was really quiet and peaceful, with only a few locals having picnics or relaxing. I was surprised to find out that most of my team has never even been around that area, and they were surprised also how I was able to get there by myself. In all honestly it wasn’t that difficult, I just got on a bus and then got off when I saw the giant gates to it.
And I wandered around to an area with a small garden and benches alongside some water where I got in some quality alone time too 🙂
I then made my way to a large shopping mall at Suwon Station where oddly enough I ran into a teammate and my manager, both were encounters where we waved hello, stared at each other, then said bye because we can’t speak to each other. Ugh. Language barrier. While we’re on that subject, I’ll share that I was sitting at a coffee shop reading and a lovely woman came up to me and started speaking English and making small talk about where I was from, etc. I was so happy to get to talk and was happy that a stranger would go out of their way to talk to some lone foreign girl. Turns out she was a jehovah’s witness and the first enjoyable 5 minute conversation turned into several brochures and preaching. Oh well, I got to speak English that day.
If there is anything that reminds me of home, my parents, or post-volley meals its Outback Steakhouse. And I am stoked that there are so many here. They do have their differences, however. Smaller menu options, but the addition of honey butter with their bread and the unlimited beer made up for it. Yes, that’s right. Free refills on Cass beer. Among ordering, you can have as many refills in 100 minutes as you want. Turn up at outback.
The following week came and we hit the road to Chungju, an area 3 hours south along a beautiful lake, where we met the Toyota Auto Body Japanese team to train. We scrimmaged them all week and it was really nice to compete against someone else, but every one on my teammates admit that it is not easy playing against Japanese teams. They’re defense is INCREDIBLE. I’ve never sen so many players flying around digging everything, everywhere with their bodies, one arm, and sometimes even a foot. Frustrating for us hitters.
After playing, we had many dinners together meant for “mingling” with each other. As if being surrounded by people speaking Korean wasn’t hard enough, now I had Japanese to deal with as well. There were a handful of girls that knew some English at least so we were able to make very small, small talk. I’ve decided these mingling meetings were meant more for the staff, because they got to booze. I will tell you that the stereotype that Koreans drink a lot is in fact, a fact. They love their beer and soju. Soju is a rice liquor that is similar to vodka but not as strong. The tables with the coaches and staff were real rowdy, the players’ tables though were filled with exhausted girls ready for bed. Many of those drinking turned bright red in the face, or sometimes borderline purple which had me concerned, but I was assured it was normal.
As some of you may have heard, this past Sunday was Korean thanksgiving, Chuseok. It is their time to celebrate this years autumn harvest over a 3 or 4 day holiday period. It is a time to pay tribute to ancestors as well, and it is common to visit the grave or memorials of deceased family members to give prayers, and they visit the hometown of ancestors and have a feast in celebration. I did have some traditional food items with my team, which included these small rice cakes filled with sweet red beans or other flavors. All the other teams had several days off, but I was lucky enough to just get Sunday off. Although the memorial services and visiting the spirits of ancestors sounded nice, us American girls vouged for a little more positive twist to the holiday and celebrated our own Chuseok together. On Saturday night, I met up with Khat Bell, who played at Texas and is on the GS team and Emily Hartong, who played at Hawaii and is playing for the Hyundai team here in the league. We hung out at a small yet lively area called Jukjeon, which is filled with coffee shops by day and pubs in the evening. We stumbled upon a place that had these huge beer towers because, well what is a holiday without drinking? I’m still so thankful that each team has an American, and that they are cool and nice and fun to hang out with. We even made new friends with two Korean gentlemen that joined in on our card games we were playing -whoever you were, thanks for picking up the tab! haha
The next day Khat and her mother had us over for an American feast with some of the best comfort food I could have ever asked for. Cornbread, mac and cheese, collard greens, pot roast, and really, really good company. Taylor Simpson’s mom was visiting too and brought us chipotle chips for our queso dip and some Starbucks pumpkin spice latte packs, so perfect!!
If there has been one Korean word I’ve heard more than anything, it is “bali.” Bali means faster or quicker or hurry or anything like that. So, on the court you can image how many times I’m being told to move faster, swing faster, prepare faster, because well, fast is not in my nature. My interpreter joked that our head coach has “bali bali” disease, meaning that he always wants things done faster. And moving into our new residence was no exception. We finally moved in yesterday, and the place is far from finished. But what head coach wants, head coach gets and I’m currently trying to unpack what I can amidst all the drywall dust and construction men coming in and out. And surprise! my room is right next door to my head coach, so no late night ragers for me. In all seriousness, the facilities are top notch and when it is all finished, it will be a beautiful place. Our little campus is in the middle of the mountains and my new city is actually now called Yongin, had to say goodbye to lovely Suwon. I can understand the hurry to move in so quickly though, because our season opener is 10 days away! First game is on the 12th of October and I’m so eager to wrap up this 10 week preseason and see what the Korean league is really all about.
I’m sure I will now be able to get into more of a routine and will update you more next time! I’ve been caught up in a lot of training, but I’m still very happy to live in this country (still love eating korean food every day). But I will say if there is one thing that is ever so obvious, it is the fact that you shouldn’t come to Korea if you don’t want to change. I’ve been proud of how I’ve handled culture shocks and everybody here has thanked me for being such a patient and enduring person. And if I asked those who knew me well to describe me, I think patient would be the last thing that came to mind, but I think being thrown in a new situation has really forced me to go with the flow and be very open minded. Now with season approaching, the next challenge is to balance being patient vs. staying comfortable or complacent. There is an expectation on my club to win it’s 3rd championship, so after being here for 2 months, I think it’s time to push a little bit harder 🙂
Until next time!
xoxox Leees MacMahone
I stumbled across this super awkward first video interview I had the first week I got here if you’re interested…haha
And here is my team website with my groovy new profile picture!