Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I should know better...

I put on one of those sappy teacher-inspiration movies starring James Earl Jones when I got back from TKD. I'm sick and I hurt myself a little while over-extending a side kick, so my healthy cynicism from my experience as a hard-assed high school teacher for three years in a tough district melted away. Now, I'm a weepy mess. And I have to put on my Pippi makeup for the Halloween party at school.

Hopefully I can get some pictures of cuteness that will make everyone else all sappy and pathetic with me now...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Being Sick...

It sucks. I keep saying things wrong. It makes people confused, annoyed, or angry (depending largely on what I say and to whom I say it). My brain doesn't work right with a cold.

On the other hand, I've discovered that kimchi is an excellent "sick food" in that it goes down easy and perks you up a bit. Also the spiciness of it clears the sinuses.

We did some crazy fun stuff with weapons today in TKD 'cause I was too sick for a full workout (I'm glad I went 'cause I felt a little better after sweating some, but I think Samantha was irritated that we didn't get a full workout... again with the pissing people off unintentionally--sorry). It's hard 'cause all Sa Beom Nim's "toys" (weapons and jump ropes and the like) are designed for kiddies, so sometimes they are too short for me to use well.

I'm sometimes reminded of how big I am here... Most of the time I don't let it get to me, but I hate that feeling. When I'm sick, it's harder to ignore. Things get to me easier. I may be at the lowest weight and smallest size I've been in about 2 years, but I still feel fat fat fat some days. Many days I still feel like the 235 lbs I was 8 years ago. I don't mean to be a downer, but when you've been really fat (just like if you've been really depressed) you feel terrified of going back to it because you know exactly how much it sucked. And exactly how easy it is to do.

And sometimes you still assume you are that way--that people will still react to you that way. For example, I haven't been able to think a guy likes me without talking myself into it since I was in 10th grade. I always assume I'll be relegated to the friend category before anyone speaks with me. There was even a guy I dated for about 8 months ONLY because he made me feel momentarily attractive (I was not really that into him ever). It's not just a self confidence thing. I spent a few years where that was an honest assessment of guys' reactions to me--now it's hard to believe that it might be genuine, even though I weigh 60 lbs less...

Wow. I'm really negative when I'm sick, yeah?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I was wrong about the color.

I thought when Sa Beom Nim mentioned that Samantha and I were ready for the next color belt this week, I would get a green belt. But I was wrong. Pink is next. This morning he gave me my pink belt--yay! Now I look really girlie when I do taekwondo. I love it!

Last night was so much fun because I got to hang out with my adopted Korean family. The children were ridiculously cute, the food was delicious, and the company was fun. My Korean has improved enough to talk a little with Se Jin's mother and father, which was great. I still can't say much, but I felt very happy just to say a little, like explaining the difference between American age and Korean age to Se Jin's mom. I was able to tell her how she is the same age as my parents, but in America I say that mom and dad are 59, even though she would say her age is 60. I even got to practice the future tense that I learned this week, saying 내일, 사전을 살 거예요. Tomorrow, I will buy a dictionary. Se Jin helped me amend it to "electronic dictionary," and I said "English, Korean" after, in Korean of course, but Se Jin's mom seemed to understand.

Of course, I also saw Se Jin's brother and my crush on him has grown a little because he had studied his English to speak with me (well, that's probably not the only reason, but I choose to be flattered...). So cute! He had also got a Korean/English phrase book from E-mart and we all (well except Se Jin who is fluent in both already) used it to have fun book conversations, pointing at the dual language phrases and trying to say them in each others' languages. It was funny because I think I even managed some passable flirting with the aide of said book (and I believe it was reciprocated... hm...).

This morning I woke up a little sick--probably from Saturday's complete lack of sleep (I ended up napping for two hours before going to Se Jin's), but taekwondo seems to have helped. And eating comforting food like spaghetti and cereal doesn't hurt. I hope it doesn't turn into a full blown cold or anything. I guess I'll just have to rest up a bit.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bad Moon Rising

Last night (and well into this morning, as I got home about an hour ago at 10 am) was completely insane and trippy and fun. It felt like this:

Disco light at 노래방 (noraebang, singing room) at around 7:30 a.m., right after I finished I pretty impressive rendition of Eminem's "Without Me." Yeah that's right. I'm dropping that Asian karaoke PG style.

Thunderbird's party was quite fun. It wasn't even as overcrowded as I thought it would be because they opened up the fifth floor (there are two floors, the main one is the fourth--this is even more impressive because I met two guys with broken ankles/feet who made it out to the party!). I bought Samantha a drink, we had a friendly game of Foosball, and she met some people and went somewhere else, so I hung out until I met Leo and Tristan (I had lunch with a bunch of folks from Korean class and they both said they were coming, so I wanted to hang around at least until I saw them).

I spent the second half of my night "speaking" Korean with a Korean guy who lives in the US now and works as a dentist, but is visiting Daegu for a month, two Korean women we met at Thunderbird's who loved my Pippi costume (all the Koreans loved it--the expats were hit or miss... oh well!), and two Russian students (really!) we met at another bar who studied Korean at their Russian university . All of them spoke excellent English, so they would speak slowly in Korean, check if I understood, translate if I didn't and help me say what I wanted to express in Korean. It was pretty awesome. I had tons of fun! And I'm not just saying that because everyone said I was a good singer after I belted out CCR (see title of this post).

I had breakfast with the Korean woman who is my age before we hopped on the subway, since it reopened well before we tried to go home. She is dating an English man who is currently in England finishing his university degree. We talked about international dating. She also told me to be careful when pronouncing 참치, the Korean word for tuna, because apparently the first time I said it, it sounded like a slang word for a female body part! Oh boy were my cheeks red after that!

And now, hopefully, some rest before going to Se Jin's sister's house for dinner. I hope my evening festivities don't mess with my appearance... Her brother is supposed to be there...


Guess who I'm going to the Halloween party as?

And the full costume effect:

Friday, October 26, 2007


The first Korean word I learned in context (like not having to look it up or ask Gwen or Se Jin if my "guess" was right) in Korea was "hurt." As in, 아파! Thanks, taekwondo!

Today my tailbone hurts like I fell on it, but I don't remember falling on it in a way that should hurt this much. It didn't bother me too much until we started doing side kicks. Oh my god was that excruciating. Sa Beom Nim said I might have pulled something using improper form for the side kicks yesterday. That's possible because I kept leaning forward and to the side instead of just sideways (I was trying to work on my leg extension--whenever I focus on learning a new thing, a lot of old bad habits creep back in... it's a process...).

Sitting hurts. Standing hurts. Darn it, lying down hurts.

This is not a good sign.

Time for Advil.

In other news, this morning I hit my official loss of 8 kgs (that's 17.6 lbs for those metrically challenged individuals) since landing in Korea. I am proud, even if I don't feel good about my pained body today.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Small Children--Highs and Lows

Some days at Oedae, I am still baffled about how to deal with the young ones. You see, I taught exceptionally jaded and often more worldly in some ways than myself 16 year olds for three years. Now, I may be certifiable when I admit this, but I love teenagers. They are HILARIOUS. Not everyone is suited to working with them--there is a reason that all the best high school teachers have at least a few screws loose. And they may act all grown up, but they are still children. They're needy, but you can't let them think you know that or they won't let you help them. They're incredibly selfish, even as they are some of the most selfless idealists around. They're ignorant of so many things, yet wise in ways you'd never expect. They crave structure and freedom at the same time.

My students here are much younger. The adjustment has been a little difficult for me at times. Like, while it is reasonable to expect a sixteen year old to stay still in his/her seat for 50 minutes, it is not really natural for a seven year old. They younger children are a lot more sensitive to changes in routine and you have to be careful how you introduce a new procedure. Especially here where there are language and cultural barriers for me as well as the different ages.

For example, yesterday I tried to introduce a new way to play the review board games that are in the Hop-Skip-Jump books to the class with Jason and Dragon (my second grade boys who sometimes decide to write stories or bite each other instead of reviewing the lesson for the day again...). I knew it would be difficult because every time I try to do something new with them, they get indignant: "No, teacher! Jane teacher did it this way!" Even before Gwen confirmed this, I suspected that they spent most of Jane's tenure complaining about how that's not what John teacher did and before that complained to John about how he wasn't Gwen teacher... sigh. I know better than to take it personally by now, but it makes it difficult to try new techniques in the class. So I tried to be upbeat and peppy when introducing the new paper, promising that we'll play the game when we finished our review.

However, I was not expecting Jason to take one look at the review paper I wanted them to do and rip it up, throw balled up papers around the room, and then collapse at his desk weeping like his puppy had died. I was actually expecting Dragon to do something like that (he tends to be more vocal in his objections to change), but he was so shocked by Jason's behavior, he was an angel for the rest of class. We finished most of the review together while Jason sobbed with his head on the desk, although every few questions I paused to invite Jason to join us. After class, I talked to Jason alone about how he has to work with me to finish this paper before we play the game and that he'll have to go talk to Samson if he behaves like that in my class again. He seemed better when he left, but who knows?

Sometimes though, teaching the little ones is just awesome. Also yesterday, my MWF 3:30 class had finished a book, so we were having a snack party (I bring some sugary drinks and let the kids eat snacks for 15 minutes in class and talk to each other. This is very fun for them... though I still don't know why). One of the weakest students, Helen, saw me leaving to go buy the drinks from the grocery store and grabbed my hand.

"Teacher and Helen go store."



"Yes, Helen. 같이. Together. You want to go with me?"

"Yes, teacher!"

"Ok." Running through my head is the fact that taking a student off campus alone in an American school without the parents' permission could get me fired and possibly jailed, but Korea's attitude towards children is different. Most of the time, I like it better because I can hug other people's children. Other times I see a three year old wandering alone down a busy street at 11 p.m. and think, What the hell are her parents thinking???

On the way to the store, Helen was beaming as she practiced talking with me in English.

"Teacher cat camera?" She mimed taking pictures.

"Yes, Helen. I take pictures of my cat."

"Oh teacher! Friday see cat!"

"I have pictures on the computer. I can show you on the computer."

"Oh yes!"

She proudly carried one of the soda bottles I purchased back to Oedae.

"Teacher brother have?"

"Yes, I have a brother."

"Little or big?" (She meant older or younger. She said the Korean words for older brother and younger sibling that I sort of recognize while she was trying to figure out how to ask me this question. We haven't done comparatives yet.)

"My brother is younger than me."

"What is name?"

"His name is Brian."

She practiced saying it. American names are so different than Korean names, so it is good practice for them to hear.

The whole exchange was so cute and sweet because I know how hard English is for Helen and the smile on her face from helping teacher carry the drinks back to school made me feel like teaching the little ones may actually be almost as great as teaching teenagers.

Then the children were children again. A class that is learning comparatives made the best sentence ever, of course: "Oh Jiny teacher is taller than Diana teacher, but Diana teacher is fatter than Jiny teacher."

Thanks. I know. I'm working on it.

My middle schoolers were practicing, "He likes ____ing" (instead of "I like ____ing), so they started telling bad stories about each other. As in "Dennis likes watching red movies." Red movie is the Korean term for NC-17 rated film, or porn if you'd prefer that term.

Well, I will say this for teaching--it's never, ever boring.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I feel like a little kid again...

Remember when exercising was fun because we called it "playing"?

That's what taekwondo feels like. I love it.

I was jumping around class today while Sa Beom Nim helped May's Mom with her kick form, hopped up on energy, throwing kicks around, and even running (that's right running) laps without being told by Sa Beom Nim to do so. My body feels so much stronger and more flexible than it did a month ago.

I am so not leaving this country without my black belt.


So there's this big Halloween party downtown at one of the two main expat bars (Thunderbird) on Saturday. I'm working on a very silly costume. I will miss the big theater shebang back home a lot, so hopefully Saturday's festivities will serve as a temporarily suitable replacement.

Gyeongju World Culture Expo

On Sunday, Samantha and I headed out to the Gyeongju World Culture Expo. Originally we planned to go out to Bulguksa temple also, but we were tired from a night of soju-ing and feeling a little lazy. We also seriously underestimated how much there was to see and do at the World Culture Expo and in Gyeongju as a whole. Apparently, we have a knack for ending up at these huge culture festivals in Korea with lots of stuff to see and buy that are rather crowded. I was reading that this particular Culture Expo only happens once every three years and we hit the last weekend of the events (although they are going on until Friday if you're trying to catch them). I feel like we lucked into a pretty cool day, considering how lazy I felt at the start of it!

We hopped an express bus to get out to the city which is about a 50 minute ride from Dongdaegu station. There was supposed to be a tourist info booth next to the bus terminal, but it was closed--eep! Fortunately we met two nice Korean men who directed us to the number 10 bus to get to the expo. The 10 took us to the festival in about 30 minutes, but it was a pretty crazy ride because it was standing room only. I don't mind standing on subways, but buses with their lack of proper shocks can be brutal!

The second Korean man, English name James, happened to be pretty fluent in English because he had backpacked around Europe and travelled extensively. He was headed to the Expo also, so he guided us there and hooked us up with the English programs at the tourist booth at the Expo and everything. He was really nice and wanted to meet up later, which would have been cool, but there were hundreds and hundreds of people there and we never did find him again. Too bad!

The Expo was spread out over a large park that was next to Gyeongju World, a smallish amusement park that looked worth visiting for a roller coaster fix. It's most prominent feature is the Gyeongju tower, that I photographed in both the day and the night. The program noted that we had missed the B-Boy show (darn... I was looking forward to drooling over sexy dancer boys), but we saw there was a sculpture garden near the back of the park and I thought that would have some cool picture opportunities. I was proved correct:

My Chinese zodiac sign, the cock.

Look, somebody painted these trees! This picture really shows how incredibly gorgeous the day was with the trees in all their autumnal splendor; and happens to be one very rare spot where it was relatively un-crowded.

There were lots of museum-like exhibits in various buildings. We found Diana's version of hell--the "Character Fantasy World." It had lots of cute chibi anime characters, but also thousands of small children running amok among the exhibits, screeching and posing for pictures. If I am a very bad person, that's where I'll end up.

Samantha's version of hell was one of my favorite exhibits--the world puppet exhibition. Given that I used to fantasize about working in the Creature Feature Shop when I grew up and loved constructing puppets, I took lots of pictures of the random displays.

Aren't these puppets awesome? Yes, the naked one has a giant phallus. Aren't you glad I shared?

Finally, we caught a couple shows. First there was the scandalous (for Korea) belly dancers who were quite impressive and colorful:

Look at the body position. My lord that's hot. Plus, I'm getting better at capturing action shots, aren't I?

On the main stage, we caught the end of the Malaysian dancer show, but I don't have any pictures of that one because I was the "random token foreigner" pulled from the audience to dance onstage at the end of the show. Samantha took pictures of me looking like a complete dork, so maybe she'll post some on her blog, Here and now. I also got a Malaysian flag for my good sportsmanship. Yay.

The last show of the night was called "The Silk Road" and was this really trippy, acrobatic-heavy show featuring a cultural amalgamation of dance from all over the world. I got to practice action photography at night--spiffy!

While this was not my favorite photo from the show, I thought it was a cool stunt. The weird guy off to the right pulled four men up on stage and got them to form this human sculpture on the plastic stools that he then pulled out from under them so that they were only supported by their body weight. The men were very good sports. It was pretty neat overall.

I took a lot more pictures that were great, but I figure if you really want to check out my photography skillz (yeah, that's right. With a "z"), you can check out the Picasa album:

Gyeongju World Culture Expo

It was a fun trip. I even got to eat overpriced but tasty curry from the "international" food tent. We caught a bus back to Daegu and I crashed almost as soon as I got home. It was pretty awesome and Gyeongju is a beautiful city. I am pleased to have an excuse to visit it again to check out the temple. The tourist info calls it the "museum without walls" which seems pretty accurate and thus, of course, a place that my dorky self adores.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Foul Monday Moods...

This morning I didn't post because I was in a terrible mood. I don't really know why because I did a lot of fun things this weekend and had a really good time. I even slept well last night. I was just cranky for no reason at all. Even taekwondo didn't help much because we only worked out for 30 minutes. While watching the cool black belt demos was a lot of fun, it didn't give me the serotonin fix I needed to lift the craptacular blah I felt.

Walking to school, a surprised looking woman who I have never seen before pointed at me and said, "Diana!"

I responded "네, 안녕하세요 (Yes, hello)," without even thinking about it. She did not respond. It was strange. Gwen said she was likely a relative of Mr Yu's (my landlord), but it is hard to know. I am the only redheaded white chick around these parts.

Several old men I see every day at the part asked me if I had eaten (a Korean greeting), and I nodded yes (again, 네). The eccentric old man who speaks a little English called "teacher" across the street to verify that yes, I am walking. Again (we have the same conversation everyday, no matter what I respond: "Hello, how are you?" "Have you eaten?" "Oh, I am very hungry." "Are you walking?" "See you tomorrow!"--his English is quite limited and he doesn't respond when I speak Korean).

This walk to work, while eventful, did not lift my spirits much. You see, last Thursday we had some major drama involving a part time Korean teacher and she quit/was fired. I was a little worried that this would lead to bad vibes, but instead the mood was generally positive. The other part time teacher, Jenny, has gone back to full time, although this is not her preference, and so all is well.

What finally made me feel better was talking to my awesome co-workers. Se Jin and Gwen were both feeling better and everyone had weekend stories. And for some reason talking about cramps is a female bonding ritual that transcends cultures. I decided my foul mood was probably the result of PMS and a headache. Excedrin and coffee seemed to help a lot.

By the end of the work day, I was feeling downright chipper and offered to switch schedules with Jenny in the evening so she could leave at 9:15. I often stay until 10 anyhow and I am much more productive about studying Korean at work than I am at home, so it is not much trouble for me. And doing something helpful for my school and the people I like makes me feel better.

Tomorrow I will finish uploading pics from the Gyeongju World Culture Expo Samantha and I visited on Sunday. It was entertaining. Samantha is a good person to travel with because she's laid back and fun. We were both feeling kinda lazy, so we just wandered around the fair, trying to avoid the crowded places (which was a bit hard to do!). We ended up skipping the big temple out at Gyeongju, but now we have an excuse to return. Huzzah!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"He is good driver; I am good drinker!"

So Sa Beom Nim's wife told me.

"Oh, then you are perfect couple!" -Me

Aren't they, though?

Last night we hopped in the TKD van (the one that Sa Beom Nim uses to pick up the kids for classes--all the after school programs in Korea have these little buses with the school logos on them. Oedae's is two bright shades of green!) and picked up May's Mom and her husband to drive out to a little Korean restaurant near Palgongsan (a very popular mountain just outside Daegu--the one Se Jin and I got lazy about going to over Chuseok and went out to Bongmu Park instead). Although we couldn't see Palgongsan, the food was delicious and the company fun.

Sa Beom Nim decided to order some kind of alcohol that he called 동동주 (dongdongju). It turned out to be some kind of ginseng alcohol. It was pretty gross, but Samantha and I were good sports, as you can see:

Samantha loves it, can't you tell?

Mmmm... so tasty...

After dinner, we went to a fish house for 소주 (soju, a Korean rice wine that tastes a lot like sake and is extremely cheap & potent) and shellfish. Sa Beom Nim tried to tell us where we were going because his wife didn't know the word "shellfish" by miming a clam with his hands while he was driving. Samantha got it right away and then his wife started cracking up because May's Mom said something in Korean about "mind to mind communication" (Sa Beom Nim's wife translated for our benefit).

My lord the fish house food was amazing. And I'm not just saying that because I had four shots of soju. My picture of it didn't come out too well (that I will blame on the soju, which is quite clear in the shot), but the table had an open grill where the waitress cooked our shellfish and then served it to us in our dishes of soy sauce mixed with onions and wasabi. I haven't eaten that well since Chuseok!

Now this was quite a feast... for the second time in the evening

At the end of the evening, Sa Beom Nim's wife tried to make it clear to us that if there is anything the four of them could do to help us during our time in Korea, to let them know.

I am overwhelmed gratitude that I cannot express. Again, the warmth and kindness of the people I have met here in just a few short months is more than I will ever repay, but I will try. Maybe if I keep studying, I can even do it in a language they can understand...

And perhaps their kindness is what inspired my drunk dialing my parents to say hello and tell them how much I miss them and love them. Spreading the love from around the globe. Or something.

Note on time: Sorry for the delay with this post. Blogger's image upload feature appears to be broken...

Happy Korean Class!

All this studying has paid off in class. For the first time today, I didn't feel like I was miles behind everyone else. I even recognized a few of the new vocabulary words from taekwondo (태권도) or running around town, like 시작하다 (to begin) and 지하철 (subway). I feel like this is a big triumph; like I have finally achieved the level of the intermediate class I'm taking.

I've become obsessed with all the new stuff I'm learning. Like I've taken to jotting out little maps of the 2 폼새 (pomsae, TKD forms) that I know. It's tons of fun, but a little crazy. I noticed that in the random pic I snapped for the last post about my return to redheadedness, I'm even smiling like a Korean woman (no teeth). Oh lord. I've got some kind of fever here.

Se Jin (세진) has been really sick the last couple days, and I'm worried about her, but she seemed a little better today. I hope she can go to 경주 (Gyeongju) tomorrow. It's gonna be lots of fun.

Today at my makeup TKD class, Sa Beom Nim had a class of 3rd grade (elementary) students who were all black belts finishing their last hour. They were some pretty energetic little boys, I must say. I wish I had brought my camera. Afterwards, he apologized, but I really didn't mind getting to see some of the moves I might have to learn if I pursue this black belt thing. Plus he gave us yummy snacks after class.

I have to go get ready to go out with him and his wife now. I'm so excited! I guess I'm getting my second Korean wind or something. My lord, it's cold says it's 55, and this may be the warmest it's been all day.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Suddenly Autumn...

And then one morning she awoke to the unmistakable sound of leaves rustling past the window. The crisp chill in the air made her crawl back under the blankets for what seemed a quiet eternity. She arose only from the need to shut the windows against the cold.

When she awoke, the trees had changed the colors of their leaves.

And so had she.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wood Monsters (by Bill)

And now for a quick preview of a scary story for the Oedae Times:

Note that this version is after the student and I have revised the paper for grammar problems, but he is still working on the content.

Monsters have lived in the Past, but they don't live now. The monsters usually lived in the woods. They were very kind, so many people and animals loved them. But humans' power increased more and more. So they killed animals and nature.

Monsters became scary and angry. They thought, 'Humans are very bad.' So monsters and humans fought. Finally, the winners were humans and they killed the monsters. So most of the monsters died.

But sometimes monsters come out in the world. They think, 'Humans' power is very dangerous.'

Not too shabby for 40 minutes. Now if only I could get more of them to try it and students like this to add some details...


After workshop today, Bill typed this final version of the story:

Monsters have lived in the past, but they don't live now. The monsters usually lived in the woods. They ate with animals and sometimes gave food to humans. Animals and humans thought, 'They are very kind.' So they loved monsters.

But, humans' power increased more and more. They invented swords, guns, and so on. They killed animals and nature. The monsters thought, 'I will kill humans when they kill us.' Finally, monsters and humans fought. The winners were the humans, and they killed most of monsters.

Now, sometimes monsters come out and see humans' world. They think, 'In the end, you are the winner.' And the monsters are snuffed out.

The End.

It's fun to see the writing process in progress. Bill, a normally sullen and quiet middle school boy, had the biggest smile on his face when we printed out his final draft. There is not much like seeing a student achieve a sense of accomplishment, really. I love teaching.

Especially when it is not so stressful...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Thanks for the love!

I guess I was a little sad in my last post, but lots of people sent me e-mails and stuff for which I am super grateful. I'll be e-mailing you all back over the next couple days.

I also had a great day at work which helped a lot. My least favorite class last month has a bunch of new students who are awesome and is now one of my favorite classes, and my insane student, Ashley, has quit the academy. Plus, I've kind of taken over the English newspaper production since I've been doing a lot of writing workshops during the testing prep and Gwen is leaving for the U.S. around the same time that we'll get all the articles from the students so I'll probably put it together. It's kind of cool because its like doing the yearbook or The Point News, but a lot less stress. Some of the kids are getting really creative. I'll post some of the articles over the next couple days because they are very cute and funny.

Sa Beom Nim's oldest son, Eric, has started studying at Oedae also. He's in my 3:30 Tuesday/Thursday class with some very strange and very smart second and third graders (remember Billy's protesting of my early ESL teaching efforts? It's that class). His English skills are probably some of the best in the class, and he's not shy at all, so he fit right in with the madness. I'll get to see him and his brother again on Saturday because Sa Beom Nim has to cancel class Friday so we'll have another make up class day. Then Samantha and I are going out to eat with Sa Beom Nim and his wife.

After class, May's mom and Sa Beom Nim asked Samantha and I to stay and chat. It's good practice for me because they are both patient with my terrible Korean. I did a little better today explaining what I do and don't eat (trying to communicate vegetarianism is still difficult), although with my limited vocabulary to describe my diet, I ended up sounding like I have an eating disorder. All I eat at home is apples, eggs, tofu, bananas, tomatoes, and cereal with milk. Apparently. And the Korean dishes I like best.

Speaking of food, I made burritos! This makes me so unbelievably happy. I have been gathering the ingredients for burrito making over the last three weeks (many things are difficult to find here), and I finally was ready yesterday. Although I have had to make some adaptations from how I make them at home (using black bean/rice mixes instead of black beans and brown rice; adding kidney beans so there are enough beans; using Korean "pizza cheese" instead of my favorite Mexican cheese mix; adding a bunch of cheap green chili peppers 'cause the Pace salsa from Costco is pretty bland compared to salsas available ready-made at home), the results were amazingly delicious. And my recipe made enough for lunch burritos for the next few days. So I had deliciousness today, too. And I'll have more tomorrow... And maybe Friday. Hooray!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Taekwondo is my lifeline...

I woke up very reluctant to leave bed. This feeling resulted from a combination of the mosquitoes keeping me up late, the reluctance I had to leave my very sweet and happy dreamland, and the sniffly allergies I sometimes wake up with as the weather changes. I finally crawled out of bed about 40 minutes before I had to go to TKD so I could eat cereal and use the restroom and such.

However, after TKD, I feel strong and happy again. I love the sense of accomplishment from improving a little bit each day. It's nice to go with Samantha and have someone to talk to in the morning, too. Sa Beom Nim is teaching me the second pomsae and working on body conditioning (increasing the number of laps I run each day and the leg lifts) this week. It's very tiring, but in a great way. I think I'd really like to earn my black belt here, even if it seems so unlikely to think of myself as a real martial artist...

I'm hitting that point where the novelty of me being far away has worn off for friends and family. I used to be greeted each day with lots of e-mail/IMs from people I love back home, but their lives are getting busy and I'm out of the picture, so I only hear from them once in awhile (though, I did hear from Rose today--thanks sweetheart!). No one but Sam (God I love Sam!) calls me (not even my parents), even though my Maryland number is the same as it was before.

To be fair, the novelty of being here is wearing off, too. I'm not hitting culture shock yet (I still like Korea more than not), but I've been getting the homesick blues on occasion--like I'll really wanna go see a movie with Sarah or have brunch with Anne or dinner with Michelle--and I can't. My friendships here are great, but they're all still in the early phases. It's not the same.

I'm so very glad I brought Princess with me. Cuddling with a kitty always makes me smile and relax a little.

Between kittens, cute students, and taekwondo, I'm still very happy most of the time, so I'm not trying to whine here. I'm just checking in a little with my negative emotions to process them and take stock.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I'm back!

Well, I feel about a hundred times better today than I did yesterday around this time. I cleaned the apartment yesterday, played some hoolah with Gwen, Samson, Samantha, and Samson's tennis coach, and finished two books! I actually kinda felt productive.

I'm looking forward to some great hiking and travelling this upcoming weekend to nearby Gyeongju, the ancient Silla kingdom capital. I've also joined a book club that will meet on Nov. 11 to discuss Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (if you are interested and plan to be in Daegu at that time, send me an e-mail and I'll forward you the details). I started reading through the opening notes and it seems like a pretty intense read. I think it will be good to have people to discuss it with when I finish.

The weather is getting chillier at night, but the leaves haven't started changing. I had to wear a sweater out last night. Daytime is still good for short sleeves, but at night, I'm beginning to wish I'd packed a couple of sweatshirts...

I need to study Korean pretty seriously the next two weeks because I'm going to meet Se Jin's brother again in two weeks. Apparently he told Se Jin he thought I was cute... hm...

The guy I had a crush on right before I left Maryland has e-mailed me. Why do guys wait until there is no possible way to start anything to open up a little? What is there to gain by this?

And today was the first day at TKD I started picturing various exes in front of me as I was kicking and punching. It was good for some focus... but not very serene of me.

Love is complex. Dating is frustrating.

Feeling a bit sick...

*** EDITED: I must have been sick to commit such and egregious error of misspelling "stationery" as the word that means "standing still"***

But I will toss you these little bits of Konglish amusement from my weekend.

At Korean, the teacher bribed us with tasty snacks, just before he gave us a test to review Chapters 4 and 5:

Mmmm... Cracker Sand with Creamy Butter.

I've been feeling crappy all week (I thought it was the oncoming culture shock that I should dread, but now I'm thinking it was probably more from the physical illness that's really getting to me today). So I went out and bought myself some happy. Yes, happiness can be bought. It is sold at 문구점 (stationery stores).

Lest you begin to think "who the hell cares? It's a stationery store," let me explain that Korean stationery stores are unlike anything you might find in the US. They are part school supply, part art/craft supply, part Asian insanity, part random Peter Pan/Beatrix Potter/Hello Kitty time capsule. I found one downtown near T-birds that was three stories. I spent 2 or 3 hours there yesterday. I could have spend craploads of money, but contented myself to treat it like an anthropological dig or a museum dedicated to cute. I bought some tiny little labels to make 한글 (hangeul) character stickers for my keyboard, making it easier to type in Korean on my computer. Yay! I also bought vocabulary study books with inspirational messages:

Inside, they carry the message: Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.

They are little and portable, so I can add to my Korean vocabulary anywhere and then transfer them to my flashcards at home with ease! I wanted to buy one of those cool electronic Korean/English dictionaries, but they are expensive (the one at Costco was 160,000 won).

I also bought a 5,000 won watch with a big smiley face on it and 7 pairs of earrings for 10,000 won and feel much better--emotionally at least. Cheap, cute jewelry is happy making. Now if only my gut would stop harassing me for a few hours. Ugh.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

한국말 공부해요 (I study Korean).

This week I've been having a lot of extra time at work because the Korean teachers are prepping the middle school students for their big tests. I've been doing a lot of small group writing workshops for the school newsletter, but this has left me with a lot of down time during class as the students work and don't need me at every little second. I've been using this time to study my Korean. I've been making a lot of progress this week. I've even learned verbs. I understand Sa Beom Nim a lot better now. He invited Samantha and I out drinking with his wife and him! Awesome!

And since Dad tells me I haven't blogged about my culinary adventures of late, I thought I'd share the delicious spicy tofu soup recipe I tried today for lunch. I added extra hot pepper paste, used two small potatoes instead of one large one, and couldn't find garlic paste, so just put in some fresh chopped garlic instead. I served it with a little rice.

Very spicy and delicious

Food is good. I need to remember to eat enough before taekwondo class, though, because I need the energy. I almost fainted after class on Thursday. I did better today.

In related news, I'm now officially down 7 kgs since coming to Korea, putting me at my lowest weight in over a year. Huzzah!

I really miss Anne today. I tried to call her, but she didn't answer. I know she doesn't read this, but if someone does who talks to Anne, tell her to call me... I have juicy gossip involving an ex, if that will entice her to call. Hee hee.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lion Monster and Strange Tiger

I have a class of two second grade boys that is the only class I teach every day (the others are MWF or TTh--or something like that). These boys are funny and (usually) sweet--when Dragon is not biting Jason and Jason is not throwing chairs. On Tuesday, they asked if they could draw pictures instead of working on English. I told them that if we got through the lesson first AND they wrote an English story to go with their pictures, it would be ok. This is what they came up with:

Dragon. lion monster. lion monster eats other monster. lion monster is friends with tiger monster. they like to eat meat.

a Jasons. strange tiger. strange tiger eats meet and fish. strange tiger likes a fights red dragon.

I was inspired by these lovely tales and decided to try a story game with my other class of all boys after they finished their lesson (these five are fifth and sixth graders and while they are really great, they make a lot of noise and sound like they are killing each other--it doesn't really help that their favorite English word is "die"). We played the game where I write the first sentence and then each student adds a sentence to it. When I played this with my high school students at Roosevelt, we inevitably made stories that caused me to pray my boss didn't walk by at the wrong time. Apparently, Korea is no different (although at least one of my bosses reads this blog... hi Gwen!):

Once upon a time, there was a boy. The boy was a crazy boy. The boy killed a girl. So the police came to arrest the boy. The girl was Diana teacher. The boy died and went up to the sky. The boy fights God in the clouds. God dies. The boy fights Diana teacher. Diana teacher dies one more time. Diana teacher fights God. Diana teacher wins, but she dies. There is a nuclear explosion. Everybody dies. Except Diana teacher. But there is no food, so Diana teacher is hungry and dies. The boy is happy. Finish.

I'm the star of a bizarre, sacrilegious, anime-inspired, post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age tale. At one point, the weakest student in the class was confused when it was his turn, so the other boys jointly translated the story for him into Korean. It was all rather funny, but I'm not sure I shouldn't be a little worried for my life... Hm...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Korean Dramas and Ghettorific Banyawol

Well, on Monday night I felt like I was back in good ol' PG county for a day. You see I was crawling into bed, finishing off the Anne Perry Victorian murder mystery by lamplight, and enjoying the crisp coolness the night air has taken on in the last two days when all of a sudden I hear a woman shouting in Korean and some loud fighting sounds.

What is happening?

I try to ignore it, since I can't understand a word of what's being said. The loudness continues and I get up to go peek outside. There was a 30-something woman shouting at an older man who had his cell phone out and was trying to get her to calm down. They were right outside Samantha's apartment! Oh no! I said a little prayer hoping she was still asleep (I found out later that she wasn't... eek).

I watched for a little bit (it was rather voyeuristic of me, I'll admit... but hey, I'm just really into other people's business--not gossiping, just knowing it), trying to figure out what happened. The woman seemed crazy. The man was very calm. She started hitting him. He pushed her off him. She threw something at him and started storming off down another street. A few seconds later she came back.

I contemplated shouting "Shut the fuck up" in English out the window, to see what would happen. I thought about dialing 119 (the police) and simply holding the receiver out the window. I thought about calling Gwen and asking her to have Samson call the police (if it had seemed more serious, I would have done so).

But the really scary thought dawned on me that in this particular situation, I was relatively useless to help. I don't understand the culture. I can't communicate in the language. I didn't even see how it began to know what was right and wrong (maybe he hit her first, how would I know?). Being unable to help out others and resolve a situation like that made me feel powerless and afraid.

That feeling subsided quickly into humor and amusement at the ridiculousness of the situation. I found out later that Samantha had called Gwen (after all, being a floor up and a block away is a much different vantage point than seeming to be in the midst of it all) and Simon (Samson's brother who lives a block or two over) came over and called the police.

Luckily for me, Simon also found out what really happened! Since I'm sure you want to know the juicy dirt, here's the story, as good as any Korean drama on TV, I'm sure: The old couple who lives on the second floor of Samantha's building have a son who no longer lives with them. This son once had a girlfriend who has since married another man. However the ex-girlfriend is still in love with the son. When she gets drunk, she comes looking for her old lover. His father told her that he didn't live there anymore and that she should go back to her husband. That's when she went crazy.

And apparently, in Korea, you don't fight drunk people, even if they are beating the crap out of you. It's sort of like what we would think about someone who hit a person in a wheelchair or a child. They're impaired, so it's not ok. Or something.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Hahoe Village

Samantha and I visited the Andong Mask Festival and Hahoe Folk Village on Sunday. The mask festival was much bigger than I expected (as many "international" festivals in Korea turn out to be local festivals where they hope to attract foreigners). There were artisans and performers from all over the Asian continent (and a few shout-outs to other continents in colorfully informative booths). We probably could have spent a lot longer wandering around the festival and seen some of the shows or tried some of the crafts demonstrations, but we didn't want to spend too much money (as it was I bought a beautiful necklace and a colorful scarf and was sorely tempted by some gorgeous pottery) and we wanted to check out the folk village.

Hahoe Village--because you know you love Korean scarecrows at least as much as I do, right?

Hahoe is a living history museum of sorts. The government makes an effort to support the residents of Hahoe in preserving the older customs of Korean country life. The village has both the thatched roof houses of the lower classes and the tiled roof homes of the educated yangban.

Juxtaposition of thatched and tile roofs

The residents have allowed their village to become a tourist destination, so some efforts at preservation are marred by the overwhelming presence of minbaks (hotels) and the fact that tourism is probably the main way many of these "farmers" support themselves.

A lone antenna is evidence of modernization. Yes, Dad. I was thinking of you when I took this picture!

However, wandering even a little bit off the main path, you will find the residents of Hahoe engaged in the daily tasks of Korea of old. Including, apparently, the important one of play fighting with metal pipes and then tossing the hay near a ditch around, at least until you notice the weird foreign lady watching you and run away.

Young Hahoe residents before I frightened them away

Besides looking at the breathtaking scenery and observing the older ways of life, the Hahoe Mask Dance Drama is performed daily on weekends by local actors. The masks are quite unique, with movable jaws that allow for many different expressions. Many of the actors were quite funny and the crowd was huge, so getting good pictures was difficult. I got some that were ok.

Here the drunk dude leans on the narrator (I think he was supposed to be either the scholar or the witty servant... It's hard to tell since I missed the first half of the show)

For great photos of the traditional drama, I refer you to Jane's trip to Hahoe (and just amazing photos in general that put mine to shame). Since it was the weekend of the Mask Festival, the village pavillion also hosted a mask dance group from the small country of Bhutan (don't worry--Shelly and I hadn't heard of it either...).

The costumes were fascinating and the athleticism of the performers was impressive

Since we arrived pretty late in the day, we didn't have time to take the little gondola across the river and hike up the mountain path. That's too bad, but I did get mask decoration Christmas presents for my family (and one for me, of course) and some cell phone tag decorations (very popular here) for Sa Beom Nim. I took some other photos of the performances and architecture/scenery of the village that you can check out on the Picasa album below.

Hahoe Village (Andong, South Korea)

The mask festival is an experience worth having again. It kind of reminded me of the DC Folk Festival around the 4th of July or even the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Many people even dressed up in the hanbok to attend (which is nowhere near as cleavage happy as the rennfest costuming, but still pretty cool).

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Yellow Belt!

I don't have much time before I have to leave for work, but I needed to post the awesomely great news: I am now yellow belt in taekwondo! Woohoo! I'm so cool--except that I'm a big dork.

Samantha came to class today and really enjoyed it. That's good. Sa Beom Nim must have really want her to come back because he didn't make her do some of the harder kicks and seemed worried about her hurting tomorrow.

I also had my first telephone call in Korean. I thought I should call Sa Beom Nim to tell him that Samantha would come today, so I tried to do that. I was terrible but Sa Beom Nim bragged about it to May's Mom after class, so I guess he understood the gist of my attempt to speak. Communication is much harder without mime. I will have to study harder.

Andong Mask Festival

Today, Samantha and I went to the final day of the Andong Mask Festival and then to Hahoe Folk Village (a short trip outside Andong, but very worth the bus ride). Met up with Shelly and Rob on their crazy cool tour while in Hahoe. I bought some cool stuff and saw lots of awesome things and got a little bit of a sunburn. I am too tired for a complete update of today's events, so I will share with you my new friend:

I have loaded the best pics from the festival onto a Picasa album for your perusal:

Andong Mask Festival (Andong, South Korea)

Unfortunately you will have to wait for the awesomeness of Hahoe (and oh boy is it worth waiting for!) because I am going to sleep now. Good night!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Holy Tex Mex!

I just got back from a night of forcing Samantha to keep awake until at least ten and making Se Jin have a good time because she is working too hard. We went downtown to find somewhere to eat and ran into a girl from Samantha's YMCA class who was headed to The Holy Grill, a new western style restaurant owned by the same guy who owns Thunderbird. It was incredible. I had a shrimp quesadilla that was delicious even by American dining standards--full of jalapenos and tasty cheese and topped with four tons of salsa (of course). After more than a month with no Chevy's or Mexican food of any kind, this place made my night.

Plus we got Se Jin to eat her first burrito! She liked it. Yay!

The place is more expensive than your typical Korean eatery, but is worth it for the satisfaction of cravings for deliciousness that cannot be assuaged in any other manner.

I had a yummy food day all around because after class this morning I had Indian food for lunch with Tristan. She's a pretty cool person to talk to and she's been here for a bit so she knows a lot of people and places (she was the first person I heard mention The Holy Grill). I forget the name of the Indian food place, but the naan was so good, I ordered extra.

I think I just gained back a couple of lost kilograms. Totally worth it.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Hooray for Friday!

I didn't get my yellow belt today because I choked up on the pomsae a little (darn it, I did so well before--this weekend I will practice, practice, practice!!!). I tried to tell Sa Beom Nim I was nervous, but I don't think he understood this time. It's ok, but it made me a little sad and frustrated.

But when I got to school, the package my parents sent was waiting for me! I have the good chocolate calcium pills now, Vitamin C, two books I did not expect, craploads of bills I don't want to think about--haha, a Vickie's secret IPEX bra, jeans that no longer fit (but I did get a $5 belt today, so I can still wear them for bumming around on weekends), and my sister's senior portraits, which I proudly showed off to anyone who would look at them. Sarah is so ridiculously beautiful it hurts sometimes. I miss my family, but it was neat to see Dad's handwriting and stuff. It made me super happy (I think the Korean teachers suspect I am insane with how much I was bouncing up and down like a giddy little college freshman who just got a package from home...).

School was randomly stressful this week, even though there were only 4 days, because of prepping report cards and grading tests from last week, and because the upcoming tests for middle schoolers means my schedule keeps getting shifted around at the last second which makes it tough to plan. However, stress is always based on a comparative scale. The "stress" of this week, for me, has been laughable compared to my life last year around this time. The Korean teachers and Gwen and Samson are going a little batty, though. I'm forcing Se Jin out to relax since she is now working 7 days/week, including the holiday on Wednesday. After my Andong trip, maybe I will try to make something happy and tasty for everyone.

That dog is still howling in my backyard most of the night. It must be a new pet. They should really let it inside at night--it's going to drive me batty if I can't find some effective earplugs in the next few days.

Now to study Korean or otherwise relax because IT'S FRIDAY!!!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Hoolah and Car Fire

Samantha arrived all safe and sound. Gwen and I spend most of Wednesday trying to keep her awake in hopes that it would stave off jet lag a bit. I get along well with Samantha so far, so it was a very enjoyable day that ended with a rather competitive card game called Hoolah (I don't know how you'd actually spell it) that is kind of like Korean rummy with betting between Gwen, Samson, Simon (Samson's brother who helps manage the school), and myself--Samantha was fading by that point, poor girl. I went home with enough money to pay for dinner tonight (which is more impressive when you realize we were playing for dimes, essentially).

I woke up this morning feeling much less sore, even with the dog across the way that decided to bark from 11 pm until 3 am or so. Good lord I need earplugs!

During one of my later classes today, there was this awful burning smell coming in through the window. I looked outside to see a car on fire on the street! I didn't know what I should do about it, but by the time class was over, it wasn't there anymore. However, on my walk home, I passed the most terrifying vehicle wreckage I have ever seen on a street (the cars they get to park outside American high schools during the week of prom don't really count). I tried to get some pictures of it, but they did not come out well because it was so dark:

Along the bottom here, you can see the extinguisher foam trail that ran all up and down the street.

Here is some detail of the roof--do you see how burnt the metal is?

The car was surrounded by police tape, but otherwise just parked normally by the road side.

It really freaked me out imagining people driving this thing... It was like a skeleton of a car or something... Creepy.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Holidays are awesome!

Today is a mid-week day off for something like Korean Foundation Day (my students were trying to explain the holiday to me in English yesterday). This comes at a very fortunate time for me and my body.

You see, on Sunday, I pulled a Diana signature klutz move that involved carrying an armload of groceries home and not looking at the pot-hole laden street while I was walking (because of course the sky was more interesting). My left ankle twisted in a pot hole and I went down. Scraped up my hand and knee that braced my fall, but it didn't really do more than damage my pride.

However, Monday's workout at TKD was particularly grueling. I was tired at the end of it, but the full intensity did not hit until I woke up Tuesday morning with my ankle throbbing in pain. I went to TKD, but told Sa Beom Nim about my hurt ankle so that if it got worse during practice, he would know why I needed to rest. During the workout I was fine, but about an hour or so later, right before work, it was killing me again. I took a bunch of ibuprofen and made it through work with lots of coffee and other distracting and delicious snacky items to keep me awake through classes, but I was hurting. It was lucky that Sandy offered to drive me home, or I might not have made it.

Well... I slept a lot last night (with another dosing of ibuprofen) and woke up very sore this morning, but it is less concentrated in the ankle. But it did throw off my plans to go hiking this morning. I have deemed that resting and healing is more important for today. So this is a lovely day for recuperation because I don't have TKD or work. I hope to be in less pain tomorrow!

Samantha will be here this afternoon, so I'll see if I can't help her get settled in a bit.

Monday, October 1, 2007


My life is now full of people gaping openly at me as I walk down the street, turning and giggling with their friends, until the "brave" one steps forward, waves, and shouts "Hello!" I used to respond, "Hello," but I have taken to answering "Annyeong Haseyo" instead. This often results in more looks of shock, but sometimes, as in last night, a bizarre conversation in broken Korean.

Four 20-something Koreans were standing outside a norae bang (singing room--like karaoke), obviously a little tipsy and enjoying themselves. They noticed me and I had they typical "waegukin" encounter. When I answered with the Korean greeting, one of the girls started speaking at me quickly, in Korean. (Translations below are approximate--and only the things she said that I actually understood. She said other things that I don't know what they meant).

"Oh you speak Korean!"

"Korean..." I hold up my fingers with a small space between the pointer and thumb to indicate.

"A little? Ok. Are you a student?"

"No. English Teacher. Oedae Hakwon."

"Your face is very beautiful."

"Thank you."

"Are you American?"

"Yes I am American."

"Where is your house? (she had been telling me where her house was before this... but I only understood like 2 words--house and left)"

I wave my arm in the direction of my apartment. "There. Banyawol."

She then proceeded to make each of her friends come up and say hello, nice to meet you, and shake my hand (the hand shaking thing is a story for another day--since it is not a customary greeting in Korea and most don't have a clue how to do it, but like to try with foreigners).

This story may not impress you, but it is the first semi-successful conversation I've had in Korean with a total stranger from whom I was not purchasing something. My listening, if not my speaking, is improving quickly.

Sa Beom Nim had me break boards today in class. He has these plastic bricks for practicing this skill. I broke 5 and then 8. It didn't hurt (I thought it might), but I was using a fist, not a chop. He then showed off a little and broke the whole stack and then showed me some of the granite bricks he broke. Scary.

I did my first pomsae very well today the last time I tried it (like remembered all the transitions and stuff). I'm starting to feel like when I get my yellow belt, I really will have earned it (definitely wasn't feeling that way last week). This is a good thing.


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