Sunday, September 30, 2007

Happy October...

It's my favorite month of the year! Halloween (which they don't celebrate here), hiking, beautiful colors, the crispness in the air, the beautiful sunsets, Dad's birthday, no seasonal depression (yet... haha). Seriously, I love October. Usually I don't even know why... it just makes me happy.

My taekwondo workout was exhausting today. Maybe in part because it was Monday and in part because I'm now strong enough to do those leap frog push-up things, but still pant like a dog in 100 degree weather after only three of 'em. May's mom (the other student whose daughter, English name May, studies at Oedae with Gwen teacher) was there and brought some delicious lemon cake, so after class we sat around chatting in Korean and drinking coffee (yes, I'm officially a coffee drinker now... this should make some of you happy).

Well, ok. May's mom and Sa Beom Nim chatted. I listened and occasionally understood snippets and answered some questions like "How old are you?" (and in turn found out Sa Beom Nim and May's mom are both 41 Korean age) "Are you married?" and "Do you like kimchi?" At some point, I got stuck trying to explain vegetarianism. I just kept saying "Meat, no. Ham (which is not the same as "meat" in Korea), no. Seven years." If someone didn't speak English and said that to you, what would you think? Sigh. I am reminded of David Sedaris's book about living as an expatriate in France, Me Talk Pretty One Day. Since there are a lot of Buddhists in Korea, I tried going that route to explain, but instead they wound up asking the even more difficult question of "Are you Christian?"

How do you explain humanistic atheism in a language you don't speak when you can't even explain it sufficiently in your own language most of the time? I said "Christmas, yes. Christian, no. Mom Christian, no. Dad Christian, no. Mom's mom Christian, yes. Dad's dad Christian, yes." Hm... I think that kind of gives an idea... right? I indicated praying at church through mime and said "No."

They kept complimenting me on my communication ability (although I think Sa Beom Nim deserves much credit there... we've kind of developed our own charades language that mixes Konglish, English, Korean and gesture into some bizarre interpretative dance through which I learn taekwondo) and on my growing taekwondo skills. Really, I think I'm pretty much an idiot most of the time, but I'm trying. How do you say "I'm trying" in Korean? I should look that up...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dance Party at That.

There is a club downtown called "That." Although a rather silly name for a club, it was quite hopping last night for a swing dance party that seemed to be in honor of a popular expat's birthday. It was lots of fun. I met a bunch of cool people, ran into a few awesome people I know already, and danced for a couple hours. I haven't done swing since college and even then (as Jonathan who doesn't read this blog can attest) I was never very good. However, after the birthday boy reminded me of the basics and then gave a dance lesson, I was doing alright dancing with some much more proficient and kind Korean guys who spoke varying amounts of English (most of the expat guys seemed a bit shy about breaking out the dance moves they only just learned... such a pity). I was doing some fancy turns and nifty steps by the time I left after 2 am--sweet!

I believe That is a pretty new club to come on the expat radar and it has a nice looking wine bar, art gallery, and piano lounge in the same building, set a little bit off to the side from the main insanity of Rodeo Drive. I noticed it a couple weeks ago when Se Jin and I were looking for somewhere fun to hang out, but no one was there, so we had moved on to Bubble Bar. As fun as Bubble Bar was for dancing and stuff, I had a better time at That. I didn't even have any drinks--just good old fashioned cutting a rug, so to speak.

I bonded with Samson a little bit yesterday when Gwen asked me to check out Samantha's apartment to see if it was alright (don't worry Samantha, it's pretty cool... the bathroom is weird, it's true, but Korean bathrooms are often weird--bring your own toilet paper when travelling around this country, people!). He's an awesome guy--funny and friendly and whatnot. He invited me to play tennis at a new elementary school spot he's setting up as a tennis club for weekends, and we conspired about making Gwen go skiing this winter. Hee hee.

Gwen and I also had an awesome Costco run (thanks Gwen!). I even blew my Costco budget a bit by buying a cute sweater (American sizes--WOW!!!) and some cinnamon for my new instant coffee addiction. As I write this, I am sipping yummy sweet nectar of sugary cinnamony deliciousness.

My trip to the Andong Mask Festival has been postponed until next weekend, so I am chilling around Daegu today and being productive and stuff. I may go for a walk around the Arboretum later today or something, but I need to clean my apartment and do some grocery shopping and such. Sorry I have no fabulous pictures of my Korean fabulousness for you today. I've been relaxing--it's great!

YMCA Waegukin

I had a very nice lunch with the other foreigners after class today. We had cheap Korean food and pleasant conversation (in English). They told me about a big salsa/swing dance party tonight that I might attend if I feel like going out this evening--it sounds pretty fun. The restaurant we went to was small and a couple people from the beginner class were already eating there when we came in. Of course, we were stared at by the Koreans in the establishment for the majority of our meal. It felt like being under the microscope again. Strange to attract so much attention for the color of our skin and the language that we speak.

I'm stubbornly sticking with this intermediate class at the YMCA, even if it took me over an hour to do the homework for the class and that's after giving up on the third section that was too difficult for me. In some ways, it would be smarter to switch out to the beginner class after they finish learning hanguel, but I think the difficulty of the class is making me kick my studying into high gear and forcing me to learn more. I think taking the lower level class would make me lazy, and I wouldn't learn as much. Se Jin's brother-in-law in Seoul invited me to go skiing this winter and my new goal is to be able to have a little bit of conversation with their family in Korean when I go.

I've been practicing with shopkeepers, the teachers at school, students when we are not in class, at taekwondo class, with the Korean teacher--basically whoever will tolerate my extremely botched Korean that lacks subject/object markers (they work kind of like prepositions in English), anything remotely resembling intelligible word order, and verbs (although I have started learning some simple verbs now). It helps to have such little fear of sounding like an idiot.

My seeming lack of fear in trying new things over here has started to make me wonder what the hell was making me so neurotic before. When did I get this self confident? I don't know, but I freaking love it. Quite frankly, I refuse to go back to being the self-doubting, worried, often unhappy person I have been in the past. I mean... I still have moments here where everything seems overwhelming and difficult--Korean is far from an easy language to learn for native English speakers and many moves in TKD make me want to cry when Sa Beom Nim demonstrates what it is he wants me to do, but I like that my attitude has been to just dive into trying it full throttle and damn the difficulty of it.

The positivity is spilling over into all areas of my life. I am losing weight again (as of this morning down 6kgs from when I arrived in Korea), despite the easy access to cheap, highly caloric snack food everywhere; I am working on my personal writing with a fervor that I have always hesitated about allowing myself; I am forcing myself to be outgoing and meet new people even if it intimidates me a little bit. I think I am looking at the world through those rosy glasses again.

And it's beautiful.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Competition in the Oedae staff room

Sandy teacher, a part-time Korean teacher who is a little older than the other teachers at Oedae and the only one who is married, asked me about Chuseok. I gushed about all the awesome things that happened in Yeoungchon and how great Se Jin's family is and how much food I ate. And of course, how cute her brother was.

"Oh, you like Korean men?"

"Well, some of them. It's like in America; some are attractive, some are ok, some are not."

"Aren't they short for you?"

"Some of them are short. Actually, what bothers me more often is that almost all of them smoke. I don't like smoke, so I might find a Korean guy hot but then see him with a cigarette and say to myself, 'too bad'!"

Sandy laughs. "Do you have a boyfriend?"

"No. I had one in America a long time ago, but then I decided to move to South Korea, so no boyfriend."

"What do you like in men?"

"I like funny men. And kind men." I am thinking in my head about the lesson in the Hop-Skip-Jump books about liking dirty boys and also that nice arms and a good smile never fail to make me a little giddy in a girly way.

"I have a brother, too. He is tall. He is a banker and very funny."

"Oh really? How old is he?"

"He is 30." This means he was born in 1978--so he's really 29--it's the way age is counted here. "He is single and has a good job. Very smart."

I start laughing. Uh-oh. The Korean teachers are all trotting out their single brothers now... I better watch out!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New Student at TKD

Today, a Korean woman who I gathered was the mother of one of Gwen's students at Oedae joined us for taekwondo. She seemed nice. I think she indicated that she was a history teacher at a middle school, but my Korean is only so good and she also speaks almost no English. Samantha, the new foreign teacher, should be here this week or next week, and has asked about TKD, so it looks like my private lesson is turning into a small group lesson (I mentioned her to Sa Beom Nim today, although I don't know if she will really want to study or is just thinking about possiblities--I'll ask her when she gets here!). This is fine with me and could be cool if it means lessons are a little cheaper and I have classmates to study with. Honestly, I'd still probably pay 80,000, but 50,000 seems more reasonable for group lessons. I'll ask Gwen if this would be a reasonable request.

The coolest part was that I think Sa Beom Nim was having me show off for the new student a little. I tried to make him proud. I couldn't tell what exactly they were saying, but the woman seemed impressed and Sa Beom Nim said "이 주 (i ju)" meaning two weeks--the length of time I've studied. I was proud of recognizing the words and of learning so much.

We went over the first form (품새--pomsae) for my yellow belt test (though I still don't know if that is supposed to be tomorrow or next week). I tried to load the video for it from Sa Beom Nim's website, but I seem to be having tech problems and the directions are all in Korean (sigh).

Sa Beom Nim also downloaded a list of dual language (English/Korean) taekwondo phrases for me! Now I have the hanguel for the phrases I am hearing from Sa Beom Nim during practice, which helps me reinforce the vocabulary that I'm building. I have even more studying to do now, but I'm excited to learn.

I've gotta get to Oedae a little early so I can prep the tests for my students since today and tomorrow are the last days of the month. Hard to believe that it's already testing time at school. Sometimes it seems like I just got here. Other times I feel like I've been here forever already.

First Korean Chuseok

I have no words to express the gratitude I am feeling for Se Jin's family right now. Not in Korean or in English. I just kept repeating kamsa hamnida (감사합니다) making gestures and noises that attempted to convey my happiness and pleading with Se Jin to translate my immense pleasure with my experiences the last two days.

Me with my adopted Korean family, the Kwons

The two most important holidays in Korea--Lunar New Year and Chuseok, a harvest festival likened to Thanksgiving in the US--are both based on the lunar calendar (meaning according to standard calendars, they vary each year, like Easter or Jewish holidays). Yesterday was the 15th of August by the lunar calendar, which meant that it was Chuseok. A few weeks ago my Korean friend Se Jin invited me to spend this family-oriented holiday with her family in their hometown, Yeongchon. Yeongchon is a small town about 45 minutes outside of Daegu where the farms are known for their purple grapes (podo--포도). Se Jin's parents have a very small farm well outside the town center so I got to experience genuine Korean country living, squat toilet outhouse and all!

I'm thinking of turning my story about this Chuseok into an essay that I'll submit to some travel journals, so I will offer you the Reader's Digest version of the last couple days, with awesome pictures I cannot possibly put all in this post (I took almost 180, which I have culled through to put my favorites in a Picasa album that you can click on the link to below for your own viewing pleasure).

Offerings for the ancestors at Se Jin's uncle's house in Daegu

We went to the more formal gathering with Se Jin's extended family in the morning. I spent most of the time talking to Se Jin's genius cousin--who learned English from watching American films--about set theory. Seriously, this kid is mega awesome. I think he's in his last year at a really prestigious tech school here (kinda like the Korean MIT). Also her cousin and uncle who could speak a little English had me pull up Mom & Dad's house in Damascus on Google earth. It was surreal to see Dad's car parked in the driveway on ol' Grace Court while I'm half a world away. A sort of homesickness hit part way through the celebrations, but it was the kind that reminds me of the happy home holiday memories and the people I love back in Maryland without really making you feel like you need to be there. I like being in Korea a lot.

Scenic Yeongchon on one of the walks Se Jin and I took after stuffing our faces so full it hurt.

After breakfast and such at the posh Daegu apartment, it was out to farmlands in the Korean countryside. We all changed from our Sunday best to more comfortable gear while two of Se Jin's three sisters and their husbands joined her brother, parents, and us on the farm.

This is the 400 year old building I slept in.

Lord of the Flies, Korean style. This thing freaked the crap out of Se Jin and I--she ran away, I got closer for a picture; you decide which of us is insane.

Se Jin's niece and nephews at the weird super-cool Korean art museum we visited.

One final thing to add (even there though is so much I need to add to this story), is that Se Jin did not bother to tell me that her incredibly hot, recently single, 28 year old (American years) brother Se Hyun would be in attendance, so I was out in the country without any make up or cute-yet-casual attire, drooling over a super hunky Korean man who kept trying to teach me new Korean words and complimenting my photography, which you can see in the album below. Sigh. I'm going to have to teach that girl the American tradition among female friends of "fair warning."

I think I have a new crush. I'm such a dork.

Chuseok 2007 with Se Jin's Family (Yeongchon, South Korea)

I didn't even take any pictures of the incredible food that Se Jin's mom cooked for us. Korean food in restaurants doesn't even begin to compare to the feasting that I've done this weekend. Now to stretch and practice the one form I know in preparation for going back to taekwondo tomorrow. And study my Korean, of course.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bongmu Park and Hilarity

As you can see from my new profile picture, I have begun my collection of entertaining English language apparel available in Korea. Many t-shirts, hats, bags, etc. have words in English printed on them. Usually they are nonsensical, inappropriate, or grotesquely ungrammatical. See, over here, English is "cool" and "trendy" like the way there are shirts with random Chinese or Japanese characters on them in the US. However, when you know the language this is often entertaining. Hence my new hat, which captures the spirit of my experiences in Korea so far: Hilarity!

Yesterday, Se Jin and I were going to head out to Palgongsan, a popular mountain park outside of Daegu that has several famous temples and such, but the weather was very overcast and threatening to storm, so we went to Bongmu Park instead, which is closer to the city and on the way out to Palgongsan. Even with the overcast haze, the lake at the center of the park was very serene and made for some breathtaking scenery--I made Se Jin pose for a shot:

Isn't it rather pretty?

Bongmu Park has a 7km hiking trail for "health and wellness" that heads up into the mountains around the lake and is supposed to circle around the lake and end up back in the park. Well... we kinda had an accidental voyage off said trail near the end and walked past a water purification area that looked kind of like a military industrial complex, and ended up coming out on a major highway right along the bus route. Se Jin couldn't stop laughing.

Korean rice farm, with a scarecrow in the front left corner

Korean burial mounds with grave markers, all clean and prepared for Chuseok

Although the vertical bits on the trail were quite steep and challenging, scattered throughout the path were collections of more workout equipment. For physically active Korea, apparently, hiking isn't considered enough for exercise. I was very impressed with all the older ajummas and ajosshis I saw not only climbing the mountain that wore me out, but using the workout equipment at the little groves arranged for this purpose. The craziest part though, was that each one also had a mirror. I mean, we can't possibly look bad after working out on top of a mountain, right?

Se Jin uses a piece of equipment--the foot pads of this thing allowed you to twist the bottom half of your body.

I guess I should check myself out, right?

Se Jin taught me the Sino-Korean numbers while we were hiking. I had learned the pure Korean counting numbers from Sa Beom Nim as he counts off exercises, but the Sino-Korean numbers seem to be used more often for things, so it is good to know them--and they were much easier to memorize than the pure Korean numbers for some reason.

I took many more pictures along the path that were quite nice, even though the weather was not as cooperative for picture taking as I would have liked. I have to keep practicing getting better at this photography thing. Anyhow, check out the album at Picasa:

Bongmu Park (Daegu, South Korea)

We had dinner back in town before crashing for the evening. Man, I feel so out of shape. If that was the easy hike, then I need to buff up for Apsan and Palgongsan. Yikes--Koreans take this hiking stuff seriously!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Shabu Shabu?

Last night, Gwen, Samson, and I went out for dinner at a nearby Japanese restaurant that featured shabu shabu, a kind of cuisine where they bring you all the ingredients and you cook them yourself in the steaming pot at the table. It was similar to The Steampot place where I went in Busan, but I think that place was a little more seafood-focused. Also it was the first restaurant I went to where you take off your shoes and sit on floor mats with the tables very low to the ground, which was really neat. Even if I ended up with my leg asleep when I tried to stand up! Anyhow the food was delicious and the waiter/host/possibly owner was super hot and super nice. Like when Samson asked for a new pot after they cooked their beef separately from the veggies so I wouldn't have beef-flavored noodles.


After dinner, Gwen dropped Samson at home and we went to this really cool coffee shop with neat fake-flower decor and lattice work all over. Here's some of the interesting features of the decor, but really it was much cooler than the pic shows:

I thought I was going to have a yummy super-sugary coffee drink, like all the other "coffee" I've had here that would make most coffee lovers in the US scream with terror because there is often more milk & sugar than actual coffee (right up my alley, though...), but instead a certain menu item caught my eye (third from the bottom):
Cacao Pizz?

Well, you may ask, what exactly is Cacao Pizz? I had to find out. It was far too intriguing.
Yeah, that's right. It's Cacao Pizz. With alcohol.

Gwen thought it looks like iced tea. It tasted very sweet and a little sour. I'm not sure what was in it, but it was interesting and had some alcohol in it, so I was a little giddy and we ended up hanging out and talking until semi-late. Good wholesome fun.

Another Language Class and TKD practice.

The class I'm in at the YMCA is definitely over my head, but the teacher is awesome and the class is small and I have a ridiculous ability to memorize language patterns, so I'm going to finish working my way through the initial chapters in the book over Chuseok and practice a bunch and see if I can't stay in intermediate. I like pushing myself with learning new things and right now my motivation to learn Korean is very high. I can already see my reading and listening abilities improving quite rapidly--like I can recognize words in context sometimes if I've heard them a few times. I'm learning the grammar with the subject and object markers as well as verb conjugations (I successfully asked my hot Korean teacher if he was married in Korean... he said no). I will continue to work on building vocabulary (now that I can ask "What is this?" in Korean, that should help) and practicing speaking.

We had a rice cake party with all three classes for Chuseok, and I met a girl from Minnesota, Meg, who knows Samantha--the new foreign teacher at Oedae arriving in a week or so--from facebook. Small world, no? It seems like the beginner class would bore the crap out of me, so I will try to work my butt off to stay with the hot teacher. Besides being attractive, he's also just a really great teacher, so that helps. I also heard rumor of a salsa club and swing dance place downtown... I will have to go check this out if it is true.

Today was my last taekwondo lesson before Chuseok (another make up lesson for one of Sa Beom Nim's conferences). We started practicing falls today--awesome fun! He also made me run backwards around the studio--that was exhausting and weird, but good. After class Sa Beom Nim's wife played interpreter to ask why I wanted to study taekwondo. I told her that I had been studying Yoga in the U.S. and wanted to learn something new. Really--I haven't thought that much about why I wanted to do it. Seems to me if you're going to live in a foreign country, you should try to experience some of the things that make that country unique. It sounded more fun than joining a gym like Bally's back home to give me a daily workout while I learned about the culture of the country I'm living in. I lucked into a really great studio (with the help of Gwen and Samson, of course!).

His wife translated that Sa Beom Nim thinks I learn very quickly and wants to know if I practice at home. I told her I'm too tired to do that after working out at the studio everyday--he's just a great teacher! They both laughed and we exchanged gifts for Chuseok (they gave me some small work out towels because I sweat a LOT! Ha ha!). Then they said I'm getting my yellow belt next week. Next week??? Maybe I misunderstood. That seems a little soon, but I guess if Sa Beom Nim thinks I am ready, then I won't complain.

Honestly, I'm really proud of how quickly I've been picking up the moves and improving. I'm normally such an awkward klutz when it comes to anything related to my body because I always feel so self conscious, but I think I've just been throwing myself into everything here--the food, the nightlife, the language--that I'm just judging myself less than I would in the US. I've definitely got the whole "when in Rome" thing down.

I remember when I dated Joe and would go to his tai chi tournaments thinking how I wanted to try some martial art--but it was so expensive to train in the US and all of that mental/emotional baggage kept me from having the courage to go for it. Now I'm finding myself checking if they have studios where I can keep studying when I get back to the states.

Speaking of, I've been thinking about my plans for the future. I'm loving my life here right now, but that has more to do with the crazy awesome internal changes Korea has inspired than with the country itself. As much as I adore cheap eating and chibi animals and neon lights and such, I don't think I'd want to live here forever. Life here is so surreal. I'm digging how fantastic (and I use that word in all its many senses including magical) this place is, but I think I'll start to feel like I want to get back to "real life" after a couple years. As of right now, I think I'd like to stay here through May or early June 2009 and then travel about with Anne for that summer, ending up back in Maryland for the start of the school year. I like teaching. I think being here is making me see how much I like it and would enjoy it as a career--I'm just not going to let it take over my life anymore. There are other things I like doing too much--like writing, theater, volunteering, travelling, learning new stuff, working out. I need to make sure I always have room in my life for those things.

And maybe every 3-4 years I'll take a sabbatical year teaching in a new country... Ha ha!

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Oh taekwondo, you are a cruel beast sometimes to my poor sweat-drenched body.

Sa Beom Nim has taken it upon himself to correct my pigeon toes. He told me that I should hear his voice yelling in my head every time I start to walk with my right foot turned in. To demonstrate, he yelled at me when I was going to get water, running laps, stretching, kicking, and whatever during today's workout, "발! 발!" (Bal! Bal!, meaning Foot! Foot!) every time I would get tired and forget. It's working.

And today was the first day where I noticed myself counting the exercises in my head in Korean. I need to finish my language exercises for Korean class tonight. I have a lot of exercises to do.

It's hard to believe that tomorrow I'll have been in Korea for a month. Time really flies, don't it?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Korea is gorgeous today!

Although it's a little hot and humid (not as humid as yesterday), it's very beautiful outside. I've been waiting for a day like this to take a picture of the little stream that I pass over on my walk to taekwondo because it is such a pretty place with the mountains surrounding Daegu in the background. Here they are:

Hopefully it stays nice like this because I'm going hiking a bunch and to a traditional Korean Chuseok this long weekend, and I want to share all the beautiful views of this place with you and good pictures are harder with my three year old point and shoot HP when the weather is less than ideal.

As for taekwondo, Sa Beom Nim started showing me the first form I'm going to learn for my yellow belt test. I still have no idea how far away that is (though I suspect it is more like a matter of months than weeks--but I am progressing quickly with this daily practice). I'm excited! I remember when I was little and Brian and I studied at Kim's Karate for our belt tests and the one competition that I participated in and how fun it was back then. I feel like a little kid again, but with more control over my own bedtime.

I'm also rocking this five pound weight loss since landing on Korean soil. It's awesome!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


A lot of people who have never taught writing, but have been through years of schooling, seem to think they know what it must be like to teach writing. I often want to laugh in their faces. To even begin to assume that their journey as a writer has something in common or universal with every writer's journey is beyond laughable.

An excerpt from a student in my AP Language and Composition class at ERHS. From her essay on Tim O'Brien's theory of truth in fiction, presented in my favorite novel of his, The Things They Carried:

“Often these essay topics prove a tremendous challenge because they are very generalized and incredibly asinine. Writing these essays is a long process that forces me to search into the depths of my mind until I find some sort of truth. Once starting with that sliver of truth, as O'Brien often did, I stretch it and add numerous building blocks along the way, one after another, adding "incidents that did not in fact happen but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain" (O'Brien 158). I continue to elaborate and objectify my experiences until I have successfully woven a seemingly true and credible story. And as I write this story, I am able, as O'Brien says, to look at things I have never looked at or contemplated. I can use these topics as a vehicle in which to explore myself or someone who I would ultimately like to be. I can search my emotions and thoughts and of those who I admire and love... Who can ever know where my fiction begins and where my truths end. We are all creatures of self-invention. We distill the essences of ourselves into a public persona that we present to the world around us.”

An essay from a student in my honors essay writing class at Oedae on bullying:

"Sometimes people makes someone ostracize. Some people enjoy bullying in school. They look so happy when they bully someone. I don't know why they enjoy it I can't understand.

What is bullying. I think bullying is very bad thing. bullying people afflict always week people but they obey stronger people. Bullying people are mean. Sometimes week people kill themselves because off bullying people.

In school, Teacher will be very angry when bullying people hits someone their parents were called by teacher. Even bullying people will leave school or go a prison, and everyone treat them badly.

I've never been bullied someone but If I am bullied, I fight them. Sometimes I've seen someone bullying but I don't help them.

Why do they bully? Maybe if they stisfiy that the bully someone. I think if they have hobby, they don't bully someone. bullying is bad."

My job is to look at both and help the student to improve their writing. You can begin to see why 150 students is exhausting for a writing teacher.

I only have eight students in my essay writing class at Oedae. All my other classes are speaking classes. I am a lot less stressed out this year, even if I miss the more sophisticated discussions in class on occasion.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I think I just signed away my firstborn

Funny thing about living in a country where you don't speak the language is that simple things you take for granted about being able to understand, like if there was a sudden dire threat to the country announced over the TV or the social niceties of sending the proselytizing Christians away from your godless abode, aren't givens anymore. Gwen and Samson (and Jane when she was here) have been awesome helping me out, but I kind of feel like a stupidly helpless baby sometimes that I can't set up my own bank account or that I turned on the floor heating by accident when it was 96 degrees outside and I was already baking.

For someone who has been self sufficient and ruthlessly independent for most of her life, this graceful reliance on others is not an easily learned skill. I'm trying to be easy on myself--and I have been pretty laid back about everything. Sometimes, though, like today, this infantile communication strikes me as incredibly funny.

I was woken up by a banging on my door. I assumed it was Mr. Yu, my landlord, because there is a key-entry gate for our building. I have been woken up by people buzzing the box at the gate outside before--and that was a shock since I had no idea why my wall was suddenly singing some bizarre Korean tune in badly digitized tones. However, it was not Mr. Yu, but a youngish woman in a uniform speaking to me in Korean. Blarg! Korean first thing in the morning??? Never.

I greeted her with my stupid little "annyeong haseyo" and she proceeds to to say a whole lot of words to me. I say "hanguk-mal aniyo," meaning approximately, Korean no. She holds up something that looks like a UPS signature catcher and says "check." I let her in to "check" whatever she needs to check, which appears to be the gas.

When she is finished she shows me the screen with numbers on it and then a blank spot for me to sign. I don't know what I just signed. I may have given her my support in reunification of the peninsula. Or that I'll vote for Ron Paul in the upcoming US primary. Or that if my cat eats her baby (a secret Korean fear that is part of the root cause of their general dislike of felines), I will gladly offer up my first born to replace the lost child.

I suspect I agreed to pay a gas bill for however much she read that I had used... but it's quite fun to imagine other possibilities...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Honesty is the best policy.

Blogging is a little tricky. Even when we write with the mask off, without the anonymity that the internet could afford by posting pictures and reporting truths as best we know them, effective composition is not a simple or straightforward process. Especially if you want someone else to read what you have written.

I began the blog just before my 26th birthday, right after notifying Bill that I would not be returning to teach at Roosevelt for 2007-2008 because I was moving to Korea to teach ESL. My first post (which is not really effective as a blog introduction) demonstrates the transitional nature of this last year for me. I had just made several major life decisions all at once and did not really knowing what the purpose of writing here was, but knew that I needed to write it. I will admit that it was not very readable initially for that reason.

I feel that over the last few months it has comfortably settled into the category of adventure and travel journaling. I must have initially wanted it to be such, since I titled it (oh so cleverly and puntastically), Going Places. Of course, the adventures, and the writing about them, inspire some frequent and healthy bouts of self indulgent reflection--but I only burden you, my readers, with such pontifications, once in a while. Like today.

I aim to please, delight, amuse, inspire--if only just a little bit. Most of my blog readers, as far as I know at this point, are my family/friends back home, a few fellow bloggers from Korea and beyond, and people looking for advice/insights into teaching ESL in Korea (or nude beach pics from Martha's Vineyard... but that is a different issue entirely). Good rhetor that I am, I do consider my real audience when I write. And I really appreciate those of you who have commented on my blog to that effect or sent me e-mails about your own adventures.

However, after my parents called me a barfly in jest after reading my last post, I read back over my blog as a whole and realized that my intended audience and this project of blogging is much more ambitious than the current reality.

I have affected a persona not entirely of who I am, but of who I'd like to be--in some respects. I may be labeled brave, or adventurous, or called a free-spirit, or even (as I have labeled myself in the subtitling) a wanderer by people who frequent my writings on this site. However, the reality is that I'm a neurotically cautious and obsessive over-planner tortured by the intoxicating need for risk-taking and adventure. I used to spend a lot of time worrying/reading/thinking about things over which I had no control and it made me depressed and anxious. After years of therapy, now I just call that "research" and limit it to things for which I can plausibly invent some reason to care.

For example, a part of the story I didn't tell from last night went like this, including the running interior monologue for your amusement:

"What are you drinking?" Uh-oh. Is this Alex fellow going to offer to buy me another one?

"Kaluha and milk." Yep. Tone in check, I sound cool and sophisticated--just like I planned.

"That's sweet. Have you ever had a mudslide?" Um... yeah it was the only way I could drink alcohol when I first tried it because it didn't taste anything like booze. And yes, I was six months from my 21st birthday when I had my first real drink (not sipping someone else's). God, I'm a such a dork.

"Yeah. They're good. Like a milkshake!" See? Dork.

He laughs. I think he might be tipsy. "What are you doing in Korea?"

"Teaching." His look of shock is played up for effect, but may have a hint of true surprise.

"Not many teachers who go out and party." Little of what he says and does seems genuine and this bores me a little. And irritates me because I'm being hit on by a drunk GI, and it feels exactly like the meat market scene at bars at home. Including the generalizations about teachers. Sad thing is that Alex might even be dorky cute if he weren't trying so hard to be cool.

Then I realize that I am also trying to be (or to seem) cooler than I actually am. Bars have a funny way of doing that to you. "I don't, really. Party. Just a couple drinks. Dancing. Fun on the weekends." And exchanges like this make me want to go back home and read the rest of my book.

He asked me for my number. I have too big a heart. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and my digits, even though I'm not really interested.

Later on, sitting on a couch with Roy while Shelly played her last game of Foosball, high from dancing at Club Frog and feeling much more comfortable and relaxed at Thunderbird Lounge than at Bubble Bar, I reflected on my evening's insanity. I call it that, but really it was rather PG-13 rated--mostly for my use of the word "fuck" and for Club Frog's bizarreness. There was no sex, no violence, no drugs, and (for me anyhow) not even that much alcohol. I forget the words, but I said something ridiculously nerdy and afterschool special about how I don't often go out and just save up all my "wild and crazy" for evenings like this.

"Yeah. I can tell you're the wild and crazy type."

"Shelly!" I call out in a mocking, whiny student voice. "Roy just sarcastically implied that I am not, in fact, wild or crazy."

Shelly and Roy laughed, but it's true. I'm tame. And shy. Korea is forcing me out of my bubble, but I refuse to "fake" who I am, like I noticed some expats doing. I guess I'm comfortable enough in my own skin to be a dork, which is good, even if it means other people notice.

But that's the kind of insecure second guessing I usually leave out of the stories of my adventures because, gosh darn it, I want to be fun and whimsical and cool--in my own weird way.

Funny thing is that the upbeat, adventurous persona concocted for blog writing purposes, who certain acquaintances of mine from other points in my life might suspect is entirely fiction, is a part of me--one of the best parts of me, I'd like to think. And the more I compose here, the more I become the better parts of me. The wacky adventurer. The eternal optimist. The thoughtful reader. The independent thinker. I'm more confident than I was six months ago when this project began and writing here had at least as much to do with it as all the other stuff I've done in the meantime, like work at the hotline, get over a failed relationship, and move to another country.

I'd just like to say thanks to those of you who support my writing by bothering to read it. Here's to you becoming the best parts of yourselves. I like to think that a good life is one where we choose to be the person we want to be most of the time; if so, I'm definitely living the good life lately!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Daegu Nights

When was the last time that I poured myself into bed as the sun was coming up? I guess I did have a 24 hour day a few weeks before I headed out here, but let me assure that last night was way more insane than pretty much any previous outing that I've had. When expats party with Koreans, dude, they don't fuck around...

Actually, no. I take that back. All we did was fuck around, and it was lots of fun.

Downtown Daegu at Night:

The Story:
I went out with Se Jin for dinner at a Korean restaurant and she taught me a whole bunch about ordering Korean food and what I should look out for on the menu if I don't want to eat meat, like 고기 (gogi). I had dolseot bibimbap, which is a traditional Korean rice dish with lots of veggies and spicy sauce, served in a still steaming bowl that cooks the rice on the bottom a nice, crispy brown. Yum! Usually it has a little meat in it, but we ordered it without the meat. Se Jin had this cool spicy cheese/noodle dish that I forget how to spell, but can recognize the name in hangul.

We wandered around downtown for about an hour looking for a club that seemed fun and cool. We ended up going to Club Bubble. It was a Korean hip-hop club that catered to westerners by serving delicious things like the Kaluha milk I had--almost like a mudslide! The club itself played an interesting mix of hip-hop and pop, both Korean and American, though more heavily focused on American. The night was still early, so it wasn't too crowded. Unfortunately the other expats there were servicemen. Now, I know a LOT of people back home who are military/former military who are some of the greatest people I've ever met. But it seems like the guys (and yes there was one woman, but I will leave the behavior I am describing gendered accordingly) stationed in Korea are doing their damnedest to give US military a horrible reputation. Sure, some individuals are ok, but they are hard to discern from the drunken masses of guys trying to paw at the local women. I ended up dancing with one of them named Alex a little bit who was alright (see picture below--he hopped in when Se Jin was taking it), but his friend kept crowding my friend--NOT COOL. Eventually they left (gotta love base curfew) and we had a great time dancing until Se Jin had to go home so she could be up for church tomorrow. I walked her to the subway, but was still up for hanging out, so I meandered over to Thunderbird.

The bar was very quiet, but after all the dancing and loudness of Bubble Bar, I was happy to sit with my gin & tonic (the teacher special) and talk to some of the people I had met when I went there a couple weeks ago. Later on, Shelly came in with her new co-worker Roy (literally he got off the plane 3 days ago--I'm amazed he made it out!) who is super tall. We played a lot of Foosball. Shelly is ubercompetitive and it made for some entertaining pictures. Below you see Team New York, the two folks from Queens tearing up the table (I forget the guy's name, but he was rather silly):

Meanwhile I stole Roy's way awesome camera and took all my best pics on that, so I don't have them here. But I like the way this picture of Roy and a girl from class at the YMCA, Tristan, looks because it's got that weird nightclub vibe--it reminds me of an impressionist painting. Actually, Tristan kept stealing Roy's hat and he kept trying to get it back. Very silly.

A Korean friend of Shelly's, Joy (I forget her Korean name, but it means silver star--very beautiful!) came out and four (Shelly, Roy, Joy, and I) of us decided to head over to Commune's Lonely Heart's Club--another major expat bar. It was a nice enough place and the drinks were a little cheaper, so I got a vodka cran. It was also a little dead and we had lots of crazy energy. So we decided to go dancing at Club Frog.

Club Frog is not for the faint of heart. Wear protection. You could get pregnant if you aren't careful!

No seriously, this place was freaking INSANE. Strobe lights. Fog machines. More hip-hop. I didn't stop dancing the whole time we were there because, quite frankly, getting on and off the super-packed dance floor was not worth the effort. The club was mixed--about 2/3 Korean and 1/3 expat. It was more an experience than a night club. I left drenched in sweat I'm pretty sure only 50% of which was my own.

After that we went back to Thunderbirds (which had technically closed a half-hour ago at four... right?) and hung out, playing more Foosball and meeting other people until the owners decided to actually shove everyone out the door at 5:30 am. I had a great time and all that, but I cannot imagine the people who want to do this every night--it would be exhausting! (Plus, I only had 3-4 drinks the whole evening; many of them have 3-4 an hour... how? why?) Caught a cab home (much less traumatic than the previous cabbing)--even though if I had waited an hour the subway would have been open again...

Four clubs/bars in one night. Lots and lots of dancing. Crazy neon Asian stuff. Yup, I'm in Korea.

Korean class at the YMCA

Assa! I figured out how to type in 한글 (Hanguel) on my computer. This is pretty awesome. 안녕하세요! (Annyeong Haseyo--meaning "Hello!"). I knew all that tech geek stuff from Blair would come in handy one of these days.

This morning I went to my first Korean class at the downtown YMCA, just off the Banwoldong subway stop. The class goes for one semester each Saturday from today (9/15) until just before Christmas (12/22). Classes are two hours long with a 10 minute break. The class cost 80K won for the semester (about $80). I think this is pretty reasonable. Plus, Jane left me the workbook and text that she used, so the materials are essentially free for me.

There are three levels for classes--beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Since I've learned the characters already and some basic expressions, Gwen thought I should try the level above beginner so I don't have to spend six weeks practicing letter pronunciation and writing. Most of the people in the class are English teachers on their 2nd or 3rd contracts (meaning they've been here a few years), so I think my listening/speaking/vocabulary skills are the weakest in the class. One girl just started her fourth year here and another guy is on year seven! Wow! The organization is very laid back--students will probably add and drop throughout the semester. If the class gets over my head I can always switch out to beginner.

However, I felt like I was able to follow what we did in class this week (some expressions for basic introductions and past tense conjugations) and my reading/writing of hangul seems to be at about the mid-low level of the other students. I think I'll stick with it for a couple weeks. We're starting on the 1-A level textbook chapter 4, so I will try to work through the first three chapters in the book this week so that I will feel more caught up with everyone else.

The other foreigners in class were very friendly and seem like good people, so that's pretty cool. I figured going to a daytime class focused on language and culture would weed out some of the hardcore party people who couldn't be bothered to get over their hangover enough for an 11 am class and folks who are uninterested in learning about Korea while they are here, and that seems accurate to a certain extent. The teacher is very nice and funny (he started the class testing our reading by writing "Burger King" and "Starbucks" on the board in Konglish Hangul). The other students seemed impressed I was trying that class having been here only three weeks and invited me to lunch with them after class. I would have gone, but today was my make-up lesson at taekwondo for Sa Beom Nim's conference on Monday.

At my taekwondo lesson today, I met Sa Beom Nim's wife and two sons, who study English using the English names Justin and Eric. They are Korean age 7 and 9 years old, meaning around 5 and 7 in American years. The boys are very cute and were very shy at first, sneaking around to spy on the crazy foreigner studying with their dad. Eventually their mother forced them to say hello and then they played quietly while I finished my workout.

Sa Beom Nim's wife is very kind and beautiful. She teaches computers at an elementary school and speaks English very well. We spoke briefly after my lesson and she offered to take my picture for my parents in DC. I am drenched in gross sweat after my lesson and look like a huge goober, but if you want to see me in uniform, here you go:

When she e-mailed it to me, she said, "I will take picture more than pretty next time." How very sweet.

I take home my uniform on Fridays to clean it--boy does it need cleaning! Sa Beom Nim even made a comment about my sweating today, which was very pronounced from all the humidity and heat from this typhoon. Maybe I should bring a small towel with me, so I don't drip all over him when we practice breaking grips and sparring.

Now off to get ready for my evening on the town with Se Jin. It's raining again, but maybe I can get pictures anyhow.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

An Il Tae Kwon Do

This is a picture of the interior of the An Il gym, stolen from the school's website. The floor is that soft gym mat material. There is one of those fancy kickboxing-style punching bags. The workout area is very spacious. There is a small changing room where I keep my uniform and an office for conducting business. I think Sa Beom Nim (the title of a taekwondo master--though I'm not sure of the exact distinctions of titles yet, but it will suffice for my teacher's name for the purposes of blogging) and his family live in a small apartment in the same building.

Sa Beom Nim has a conference on Monday, so he asked if I wanted to come in tomorrow instead. We had to negotiate the time (since 11-1 is my first Korean class downtown at the YMCA), but apparently I'm working out tomorrow at 3 p.m. instead of Monday. Cool. It was thoughtful of him to find another time for me to make up the class--he even looked up how to write conference in English to make sure I understood!

I thought today would be the end of my first week of lessons, but apparently that will be tomorrow. I have learned quite a lot in the first week. I'm much better at some of the proper basic forms for the kicks, punches, and blocks I've been practicing. Going everyday means I see a lot of my progress more quickly, which is a huge motivator for me right now. I've always found it hard to stick with an exercise program with the only motivation being "gradual weight loss" or "improved health," even though I always feel better when I'm working out regularly, and those other goals for working out start to happen over time. I think I just need to make sure I am doing something fun where I get to learn new things; that's good to know about myself and makes me feel less like a lazy bum.

Also, taking taekwondo is giving me the motivation to learn Korean faster so that I can understand what Sa Beom Nim is saying. One of my middle school classes (the one that is coming closest to giving me "stress," though the comparison to my job at Roosevelt keeps that word in quotation marks) is learning the English names for body parts (and a few other words), and they have a vocabulary quiz next week. They started complaining, so I said that I would take the same quiz in reverse (like they'll get the words written in Hangul and have to write the English word; I'll make a copy with just the English words and I have to write the Korean Hangul word). If they do better than me, they all get 100 on the quiz. Honestly, it's not really fair to me since most of them have studied English for years, but I'll try anything to get a class motivated.

Yeah, I'm that kind of dorky teacher. Like now Jason and Dragon change their English names every day (most recently they were Green Tiger and Rainbow Dragon, respectively). Going with the insanity is just easier and more productive than trying to fight them about silly points like names that aren't really their names.

Gwen and Samson reimbursed my plane ticket a few days ago, and Gwen helped me navigate the ATM, so I have enough cash now for comfort until my first payday after this month. Korea typically pays employees once a month, not every week or two like the US, so a lot of people who don't bring much won with them end up strapped and borrowing to make it through the first month which has the most expenses (setting up the apartment, paying for whatever lessons you're taking, figuring out the good places to eat/shop that aren't too pricey, etc.)

It's started raining again and is supposed to rain throughout the weekend. Bummer. I have plans to take my first Korean class tomorrow and in the evening head out to downtown with Se Jin for dancing and fun. On Sunday I was going to pick a park or tourist site in Daegu to check out from this site, but it looks like the weather may make my plans change. We'll see.

I really need to learn how to type in Hangul.


I am doing really well with the lose weight/get in shape resolution I made, but am not making much progress on the finishing my papers for grad school. I feel bad 'cause I didn't get them done before leaving. I've been so crazy/busy/distracted with the Korea stuff and posting daily to my blog (my current biggest writing project) that I've definitely been neglecting my studies. I feel awful because I feel like I have been letting down my professors. They are all such wonderfully awesome people I don't want to disappoint them.

So here is my statement of intent regarding grad school papers: I will finish one this weekend (shouldn't be too difficult to do) and two short ones over Chuseok weekend (a 5-day holiday from work--yay!). Blog readers, keep me honest here. I want to finish these things and then start working on my fiction in my free time.

I think I'm gonna spend less time on Dave's ESL Cafe--that place just sucks up time and I only get a little bit out of it. Maybe I'll check it once or twice a week maximum (Let's say Saturdays and Wednesdays--that should be alright). In fact, I'm gonna go log out of it right now. There. Goodbye time wasting suck hole!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Celebrity Status

Sometimes living in Korea and being the only white person on my street makes me feel a bit like a celebrity. Keep in mind that there are good things about being a celebrity--I get told I'm beautiful a lot here (although if it's in Korean, I can't understand it... so maybe the ajumma this morning was telling me something else...). That's good for the ego. People all know me, even if I haven't been in their store or shopped at their stand, because I'm the white chick with red hair. Little kids run up to me and say "hello" and then giggle and run away.

But it can also be like living under a microscope. I can't do anything--like run out to the convenience store for a bottle of water or go for a little stroll--without being observed, stared at, asked my opinion about spicy Korean food, etc. There is freedom in the idea that you could do pretty much anything and the locals would laugh it off because you are the weird waegukin (foreigner), but that is also restrictive in another way. It doesn't bother me that much, but I can see how this place could start to get lonely after awhile. It must be hard wondering if your friends are your friends because they like you, or for the novelty of having a foreign friend--or because you are another lost soul who speaks the English language. Amplify that feeling by a factor of 10 if you try dating someone...

I have met a few people I like because they are intelligent, funny, kind people who I enjoy talking to or spending time with, and I hope to develop friendships with them while I am here--maybe even the kind that will continue after I leave. That's good enough for me because I'm not an extrovert. Even though I like meeting new people and such, I don't really need lots of friends, just a few who are up for good times (well, my idea of good times, which only coincidentally and occasionally involves alcohol, and not the standard "cool" definition that tends to almost revolve around the almighty poison) and like to laugh about random things. This place would likely be hell for your typical American extrovert--especially someone who was "popular" back home.

And yet, ironically, living in Korea is forcing me to get out of my inner bubble and seek out the bit of social solace that I might enjoy. Back home, I would never have gone to a bar alone, or invited a few people I barely knew to travel with me somewhere I'd never been before, or signed up for martial arts lessons from a teacher whose language I didn't speak. I would usually wait someone else to go with or to express interest in hanging out with me first.

I kind of like the bolder parts of me I'm discovering...

Monday, September 10, 2007

I think it was a compliment...

Taekwondo, day 2: I woke up a little stiff, but not really in much pain at all. I didn't even take any ibuprofen! I think the master is building me up slowly and checking my fitness level and all that. I very much appreciate this because while I do have muscles and such, I'm not in the best shape I've ever been, so learning a little each day seems ideal.

At the studio, I got my uniform and white belt (indicating I am a neophyte of the highest order, naturally). It was only 30,000 won--yay! It was quite comfortable to move in, albeit a little stiff with its newness. When I hung it up at the end of class, I noticed it was literally about twice as large as the other uniforms... All the children at the studio look like they have much more advanced belts than me. I bet, even half their size, many of them could take me in a fight right now.

Before going to class, I practiced my counting numbers 1-10 in Korean because I noticed the first class that master counts off the exercises as we do them. I'm getting better... And I started looking up words for body parts because it seems helpful to know.

The master and I are communicating in much the same way I communicate with most Koreans--it involves a lot of charades, a few English and Konglish words (and very few Korean words), and nodding or shaking the head. He owns the studio. Gwen asked how old he was, and I'm having a little trouble placing his age because he is in phenomenally good shape. Maybe mid-late 30s? You can see a picture of him at his website, but in real life is quite a bit more attractive (especially when he smiles).

So in this very bizarre method of communication I think he complimented me on my flexibility today. I mentioned that I studied yoga for years and he nodded. I said kamsa hamnida (thank you).

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Korea, I find you delicious...

But quite frankly, if I find another live slug in my fresh head of broccoli, I think I might be a bit miffed.

All slug jokes aside, this curry is heavenly! Ok, Korea... as long as I see the slugs in time to get rid of that part of the broccoli before I chop it up and eat it, I think we can still coexist peacefully.

Just got back from my first TKD lesson. It was super awesome, even if I have horrible posture and am out of shape. Boy am I glad I'd been doing some yoga this last week; many of the stretching exercises are similar to yoga poses. I can already tell this is going to make me sore for the first couple weeks, but it was lots of fun and a great work out. Hopefully going every day will help me learn quickly.

Trip to Song Jeong Beach in Busan, Korea

I live in Daegu, which is the third largest city in Korea (depending how you count); Busan is the second largest city in Korea on the south-westernmost tip of the country with several beaches along the coast of the East Sea (known outside of Korea as the Sea of Japan). A teacher in Jeonju whose online handle is Alyallen on Dave's ESL Cafe posted information about an International Surfing Festival in Busan this weekend, so I had decided to go, pending the weather. Well, the weather turned out fantastically awesome (though it was overcast so my pictures aren't as beautiful as the day was wonderful, but they're alright)--so I will recount the tale of our delightful voyage to the south.

Though Gwen was unable to go because of her family's preparations for Chuseok (a Korean harvest festival coming up in a couple weeks), a Korean English teacher from Oedae, Se Jin (her English teacher name is Jiny), accepted my invitation to join Shelly (an English teacher in Daegu originally from New York, who I met at Thunderbird) and I for the day. So the three of us meandered over to the express bus terminal next to the Dongdaegu subway stop at around 10:30 a.m. to hop on the bus to Busan at 11. I love that the bus ride, which was just a little over an hour drive through the countryside, cost about $6.

We arrived at the very end of Busan's subway, so had to transfer all the way down to the last stop on line 2, past the very popular Haeundae Beach. Korean subways are very clean and weird. Like the stop for Haeundae Beach plays a noise like seagulls, to indicate the beach, which confused Shelly and I immensely when it happened the first time.

Song Jeong beach is a bit far to walk from the last subway stop out, so we caught a cab down to the beach. Many people had been skeptical about the surf-ability of Korean beaches, but there were people surfing at the festival (mind you the waves were nothing like the ones at South Beach on MV that gave me the banner photo for the blog, but they were respectable):

I met Alyson briefly, but it seemed like the surfing competition was over and people were just sort of hanging out and doing their own thing. There were a whole lot of foreigners at the festival--there seemed to be more of them in Busan in general than in Daegu. Or maybe they were just more visible there. A Korean guy was flying the coolest kite ever made:

The water was nice, so Shelly and I changed into swimsuits and sallied forth into the very salty water. Se Jin hung out on the beach and watched our stuff and took photos of us frolicking in the waves. It was a nice little swim and the area was very scenic, so when we got out, I suggested that we hike up to the little pavilion and tuft of forest you see behind me posing like a dork in this picture:

I'm glad we did, because the scenery was lovely out near the pagoda thing. Here you can see all three of us lovely ladies with the gazebo a little closer in the background:

And another of me looking all profound with an awesome rock formation in the background:

Apparently Koreans can't be more than a few yards from workout equipment in public parks; although this particular piece of equipment looks more like a medieval torture device to me:

We got hungry and Busan is known for their seafood, so we hopped back on the subway and headed for downtown to look for a good place to get some tasty food. Downtown Busan reminded me of Asian San Francisco for some reason (though I do credit Shelly for suggesting this photo first):

It was cool that Se Jin is Korean and can speak the language because she got an awesome recommendation from a nice young man on the street for a place called The Steampot. The restaurant derives its title from the fact that besides the sizable buffet of sushi and prepared seafood, they have a pot of boiling water/fish stock at each table where you put whatever raw seafood in that you want to cook for your dinner. The restaurant was on the 14th floor, which was a little dizzying from below:

The view from the top was cool, but the restaurant itself was much cooler:

The food was amazing and they gave us coupons for a return visit. For Korea, it was on the pricey end of things (weekend dinner was ~$25/person), but this place was totally worth it. With the coupon, and on a weekday, it would be the best deal ever.

We made it back to the bus terminal in time to catch the 7 p.m. ride home to Daegu, but almost missed it by stupidly getting on the wrong bus that had the same departure time. We ran through the terminal as the Korean workers shouted at us to stop running, but found out our bus had been delayed about 5 minutes, so we were perfectly fine getting home. We were tired at that point and thought the whole situation was very silly.

Shelly and Se Jin are really awesome people and the day was memorable and fun. I took a lot more pictures and you can look at them on my Picasa album:

Song Jeong Beach (Busan, Korea)

For now I must crash because I have my first TKD lesson in the morning. Good night to all!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Why I (currently) love Korea

The weather cleared up after another walk home last night that turned into a swim (whoever said Korea doesn't get the monsoons?). It is now rather beautiful outside, so I tried to go capture some of the deliciousness of the fruit and vegetable stands that haunt my walk to school. Unfortunately, the truck had just run through and yelled at all the vendors to go away (technically they need a permit to sell), so only a few had set back up and it wasn't nearly the extravaganza that my first Sunday venture out had been. However, I got some of the most delicious tomatoes ever grown and some melt-in-your-mouth nectarines from two different vendors. Here are some pictures of the amazing healthy happiness that is Korea (I didn't buy the onions 'cause I'm a lazy SOB and can buy two pre-peeled onions from Nais Mart for less than a dollar):

The woman who ran this stand helped me tell the difference between Korean cucumbers (o-i) and zucchini (turns out I've been cooking with some mighty bitter cucumbers, but at least now I know for sure that it is silly to cook with them and will eat the remaining two raw!). I would have bought some of her tasty looking eggplants, but I'd have no idea what to make with them since I don't have an oven:

There was a taekwondo exhibition in the park. I wanted to get closer to take some good pictures, but I'm not sure how that would have gone over (crazy waegukin! do not photograph our children!), although it probably would have been fine. Anyhow, one group did this awesome bridge move in unison that I managed to snap, and it gives you a sense of the coolness of the event as a whole:

Tell you what, when I can do THAT, I'll take a photo of it and put it on here, kay?

For now I leave you with yet another animal that is oh-so-happy we can eat him at his restaurant:

I am so excited about Busan tomorrow--it's going to be awesome! It sounds like Gwen might be coming down with something, but I hope she feels better and can go. There is a lot of illness going around our school--the kids have conjunctivitis and a couple Korean teachers have colds. I'm trying my best to wash my hands frequently and stay healthy. I just cleaned my apartment and everything. Hopefully, that will help!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Yay taekwondo!

So Samson called around yesterday and found a studio that is about a 15 minute walk from the apartment that will do a private lesson for me at 11 a.m. M-F for about $80/month. You can't beat the time and the distance--just perfect to hop in the shower and grab a quick bite after the workout and still be at Oedae by 2 p.m.!

I was hoping for a class of some kind, but in many ways the private lesson could be better. For one, I'll feel more like I have to go because I've made a commitment and it's just me. For another, less embarrassment from being the awkward, out-of-shape foreigner in a class of Koreans who have been studying taekwondo for years. And finally, you try finding a personal trainer or martial arts master in the US who will meet with you 5 days a week for an hour each time for that price! Yikes!

Basically, if I don't die the first week, I'll get in pretty darn amazing shape by the end of my time here. I'm glad I brought the ibuprofen...

In an effort to lessen the shock my system is likely to experience, I woke up today a bit early and plan to go for a long walk (hopefully aerobic) and maybe even a bit of a jog. Times like these I wish I was a runner of any kind, as running would probably be a better preparation.

Today Samson is setting up my bank account (yay!) and the secretary was preparing my health card (double yay!). Jane gave me the business card of the English speaking vet in Daegu who is good (Princess will need her for travelling home) and her Daegu transportation system card. They take the same card on subways, buses, and in some taxis.

Oh yeah... and the TKD studio doesn't speak any English. I was expecting this, but it still doesn't make things easy. I will try brushing up on some Korean before Monday. For now, I have to go workout... Eek!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The villa style apartment home

When I first posted about my apartment and my neighborhood, I mentioned that many of the homes around here are apartments in multi-family villa-style buildings. I guess it's kind of similar to garden apartments back home, but fewer apartments per unit and the buildings have a lot more character. While the weather hasn't really improved any, so these pics are still a little gray, I did snap the front of Mr. Yu (my landlord)'s building so that you can get a sense of what I mean:

My apartment is on the second floor; you can see the windows that Princess likes to look out over on the left part of the building. The gate is locked and leads into a little yard where Toto the bunny (Mr. Yu's pet) scampers about. I take a very steep set of stairs over to the right up to my apartment on the left. The stairs are uncovered, so during these last few weeks of rain, I've been extra super careful climbing them! Another family lives off to the right and around the back of the building on the second floor (I think Jane said the children in this family attend Oedae academy, but I haven't seen them yet to know). They often have their laundry drying on the rack right outside my apartment--hee hee!

I also snapped a picture of next door--another villa style apartment. I like the cool looking trees in this place. You can see the daycare center in the background where I hear children playing during the day:

In other news, Jane leaves this morning, which is a little sad for me, but she's off to start her next chapter of home-owning in the ghetto adventures. I'm very glad I did get some time to meet her and the job I took over from her is really great, though it might have been nice to have our time in Korea overlap some because she's been cool to hang out with a little. Oh well--perhaps I'll visit her in Georgia sometime I'm heading down South again. Also, it looks like I'm set to go out to Busan this weekend with a cool girl I met at Thunderbird and Gwen. Let's hope the weather clears up!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The weather here is dreadful...

I mean, the temperature is great, but I feel like I'm in one of those songs about London where the rain never lets up. Sheesh. I've heard people complaining that this has been one of the rainiest summers in Korea. Let's hope that's true.

I also have awesome plans to go to Busan on Sunday to see an International Surf Festival (hee hee), so the rain better let up soon so I can go and take pretty pictures of all the cool stuff I'm doing. (Don't you want to see pictures?)

Rain during the day makes everything about life seem like its in some kind of drizzly fog. It's kinda cool for a day or two here and there--or for the random thunderstorms that roll in the afternoon and out by early evening. But this constant drip, drip, drip like the sky's leaky faucet you can't turn off wears on you after a bit. All I want to do is sleep and read.

So, in the meantime, I'm getting caught up on all that sleep and pleasure reading I've missed out on for the last 26 years of my life and that's pretty awesome. I hope today is the day we set up my Korean bank account and that I can figure out where I can take a taekwondo class, since those are things that would be pretty cool to have done.

Haha--martial artist Diana! Woo hoo!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Wow... 100 posts!

Blogger says this is my 100th post! Happy 100 little blog. We're still going strong, are we not? This blogging thing is rather addictive; I encourage anyone with something to say to give it a whirl. Writing is powerful stuff.

Speaking of powerful writing, I finished Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye the other day. It took a little longer than books that size usually take because so much of what she was writing about needed to be digested slowly. The edition I read had an afterward where she commented on how effective she felt the piece to be. While she concluded that her ideas and forms were important and executed in the way she had intended, she felt that the piece as a whole did not quite work in the way she had hoped it would. She says "many readers remain touched but not moved."

I understand this frustration. As a writer, you want your words to get under the reader's skin, to become something more profound than an exchange of important ideas, to somehow pierce a little into the soul of another, communication through words, but beyond them somehow. Words are the medium, but they are not the ends. Morrison is perhaps so gifted with words and so urgent with the passion of the ideas that she wishes to explore, that her writing life must be one of perpetual frustration. Like Sisyphus.

That said, I see her point. The book is incredible. Moments in it will stick with me, like the chapter on Cholly's childhood. She made me empathize with--even like and pity a little--a father who rapes his daughter. I don't think I'll ever quite shake that one off. But as a whole, the piece was almost too ambitious to contain in the limited story that she sets for it. The comment she needs to make about the internalization of ugliness in culturally defined beauty extends so far beyond Pecola's story that often the novel seems to forget that it is Pecola's story--that Claudia is the narrator. I LOVE this book, but in places it seems more like a thesis for cultural anthropology than a novel. Not that I don't enjoy reading anthropological observations, especially by an intellect as finely honed as Morrison's, but it does sacrifice the emotional involvement of the reader in the story for the conveyance of the expository comments.

But then, there is the risk of being misunderstood. Stephen King said that all failures in writing (all bad writing, not that Morrison's could ever come close to qualifying as "bad") comes from fear. Perhaps afraid that we would miss her point, she made the exchange--emotional stake for intellectual clarity. That such a fierce writer would EVER fear being misunderstood speaks volumes itself about the ingrained racial and gender problems our society still faces, and that in itself makes the book, even in all its very few shortcomings, spectacular.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Princess's perch

My apartment has this neat window ledge thing that is basically the best spot for a cat in the entire world. While this is not the best picture, it gives you a sense of perspective for the window ledge (this thing is huge and very cool--it allows me to leave the lights off during the day!):

But here, Princess surveys Korea:

And Land of the Morning Cat:

I was worried right up until I left whether bringing Princess with me was the right thing to do (for her and for me). I was anxious over many details, like where I would find cat food and kitty litter for her in a land that doesn't really like cats all that much. Jane helped out a lot with that stuff.

I was also very worried about how the 24 hours of tortured travel would affect her. But Princess has adjusted beautifully--it's so nice to have a kitty to come home to who will jump on your lap and purr in demanding that you pet her. For us, it was definitely the right decision!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Introvert--who? me?

I was supposed to have an adventure to downtown Daegu with Gwen yesterday, but the weather sucked very much. It's been alternating between torrential downpour and light drizzle since Tuesday night, with very little let up. Gwen kindly gave me an old umbrella on the first day, which I have since usurped as my own (with her permission, of course), but I have not left the house without it even once.

Disappointed that we couldn't get out downtown and that without a drying rack to put on my balcony yet, doing laundry would be a little pointless, I went out shopping at Nais Mart. I was going to venture further out to E-Mart because I needed some non-grocery items, but I thought I'd see what Nais Mart had first. I'm glad I did! This store is very comprehensive--I got both the scale I needed to work on the weight loss thing more seriously and a cute wallet (it's red and looks like a butterfly) because I left mine back in Maryland. And I got many delicious groceries for this week. At the rate I'm going, I'm going to become a pretty awesome cook over here in Korea. It's much more fun experimenting here--partly because sometimes you buy something not knowing what it is because you can't read the label in Korean! I suppose once I start learning to read the labels, it will be less "exciting" but by then I'll probably just want to finish grocery shopping quickly and get what I want no fuss anyhow.

I got restless later on. I had been so looking forward to going downtown. So I decided to venture off for the evening. Sure, it was raining and I'd never been into the city, even in daylight, but I didn't drag myself halfway around the world to sit in my living room wishing I could be out trying something new! I did a little research online and decided to try to find Thunderbird Lounge in the district near the 삼덕소방서 (sahm-deok-soh-bahng-seo--Samdeok Fire Station), which seems to be where many expats congregate downtown.

I took the subway in. It was the first time I've ever been one of two races on a subway, and the only one of my race in my car (and seemingly on the train). I'm used to subways being the mixing bowl of cities--I think I'm beginning to get an idea now of how homogeneous Korea really is! I've always been around pretty diverse areas, so this is very new. St. Mary's College even feels diverse by comparison.

Despite writing down the directions for myself, it took me a good 40 minutes of wandering around the Rodeo street area to get my bearings enough to find the bar (it was sort of tiny and out of the way, too, so that made it a bit harder). This turned out to be pretty cool, actually, because there was a lot to see and take in. I found all the "Western dining" establishments like Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, and Bennigans and a movie theater that was showing at least one English film (with Korean subtitles, of course!). It was disorienting to hear Justin Timberlake or Neo pumping out of the stores and clubs, mixing with the Korean pop music and neon insanity of it all. I wish the weather had been nice enough for me to photograph because it was kind of like a carnival attraction version of a US downtown--like excessively bright and "trendy" but without as much risk of being shot, offered drugs, or raped in one of the back alleys. Kind of how the "It's a Small World" ride at Disneyworld "represents" the world... So very bizarre.

Anyways, I found the bar. The bartenders were very nice, and I had the "teacher special" which was Canadian Club and Ginger Ale (yummy! Imported goodness!) and met a bunch of cool people from all over the world and played foosball (and lost... but only by one point). While there were a few scary teacher in Korea stereotypes (like the drunk ex-frat boy who got angry at his friend for playing another round of foosball because he'd picked up two "hot Asian chicks" for whatever), it was a much more laid back scene than I expected. Which was good for me because I'm still very shy and nervous about approaching people I don't know, but I do like having friends and meeting people. It was a decent enough place, and I'd be willing to go back there again sometime.

After I left, the real adventure began... getting home! It was around 12:30, so the subway had stopped running. I waved down a few taxis and tried to say the name of the station near my house (cab drivers don't really speak English much here). It's pronounced Shin-Gi, but I was stupidly pronouncing it Shing-ee. Finally, I mentioned Ansim (An-Shim), the district it was near, and found a nice cabbie who nodded and agreed to take me to Singi. He tried to have a conversation with me, but his English was about as good as my Korean, so it was a no-go. He dropped me off somewhere, and I thanked him and paid. The trouble was, it looked like I was still downtown, in the wrong area. I found a sign and located myself and determined I was definitely too far away to walk. So much for the nice cabbie!

I hailed another cab, and this guy seemed about to drive off in frustration at my piss-poor Korean, when I pulled out the paper where I'd written the name of the station in Hanguel. He laughed, corrected my pronunciation and took me there (the right place this time). My detour cost me time and a few extra thousand won, but I got home just fine--all by myself!

I deem this evening to be one small step for me, one giant leap for introverts everywhere. Or something.


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