06 May 2009~
Sunyoung had asked me a month or so previous if I would like to come visit her at her part-time teaching job sometime, and of course I said I would love to. You see, Sunyoung was working at the Blue House. The Blue House is like Korea's version of the White House. Yes, that's right, the official residence of the president of South Korea. As you might expect, 청와대 ('cheongwadae' - 'blue tiled house') also contains several other buildings, and the whole place is thick with security. And this is exactly where my connection lay. Sunyoung was teaching English to the security staff of the blue house. She had been telling me a lot about her work, and now was finally my chance to meet this troop of what I believed to be intimidating ajossis (working men). I couldn't have been more wrong, though. They were all extremely friendly and courteous and excited to try out their English on me. They blew my nervousness out of the water! But the experience also reiterated my observation of how differently in Korea strangers act when they have a reason to know you and when they don't. I barely had a chance to take a breath with all the running around and talking we did. It was a load of fun.
[here's the actual Blue House]
[this is some reception hall]
There were so many strange security precautions like where we were supposed to walk or stand and which way we were supposed to go. We were constantly being rushed along so that everyone would have enough time (there were other groups of visitors). Somewhere along the way, I was given a free, green mug with a picture of the Blue House on it.
[me and Sunyoung]
After the tour, we had lunch in the security guards' cafeteria which was in their office building. It was pretty tasty. The whole neighborhood is right in the middle of Seoul, but I had never been there before, and it felt so different. I imagined how strange I would feel walking down those streets if I were there on my own - the only people who lived there were government workers, and everyone on the street had a suit on. This day turned out to be Sunyoung's last day with her students, so they presented her with a gift of appreciation, and we were able to meet the director of the Blue House security. Pretty cool stuff. I was a little nervous about that, because the range of my knowledge about Korean etiquette only goes so far, and I had never been in a situation like this one before. Still I managed to muddle through and give a few dazzling displays of Korean speaking skills (not really). Definitely a unique experience.