Thursday, November 29, 2007

I wonder...

If Princess ran this blog instead of me, what would it look like?

8/22/07 Today was horrible. I was crammed into that tiny box, but instead of being taken to the annoying man who sticks needles in me, I ended up in a busy place with lots of people. The Woman left me with some people who put my box into this coffin-like place that was very loud and uncomfortable for many hours. And just when I thought I'd be ok, she did it AGAIN!

8/23/07 Today I met another cat. Strange animal. Kept hissing. This place smells different. I don't know what to think.

9/15/07 I guess this place is ok. The birds are different and there are strange smells and noises. But the Woman takes care of me. I like her ok.

10/31/07 She left me! Oh no! Will she ever return? She has been gone for many hours... What will I do? What will I do? What will I... oh. There she is.

11/30/07 I found a toy today that smells like that other cat. I played with it. Then I lay in the sun and looked pretty. I do that a lot.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Notes to Men (mostly expat guys):

* Breath mints are your friends. Seriously. So is personal hygiene.

* Suggesting I'm "high maintenance" when you've known me all of 10 minutes (or any other comment that could be insulting in some contexts) is not considered flirting in my part of the world. Some girls do go for nice guys and not that kind of game playing bullshit.

* No, I'm not going home with you tonight.

* It's considered rude to run away the nanosecond you figure that one out.

* Just because I'm not going home with you tonight doesn't mean I'm not interested.

* Just because I'm talking to you doesn't mean I am interested.

* Just because I'm tearing it up on the dance floor doesn't mean I've given you permission to touch any part of my body.

* Dance if you're at a dance club. It's way hotter than the creepy pervs who stare at the people dancing. Or claim they are "too cool."

* If you call me "beautiful" in bar lighting when you're about a drink away from passing out, I know you're talking out your ass--"cute" ok. "pretty" maybe. specific notes about hair, eyes, or smile (but not body unless we know each other for much longer than 15 minutes or you're commenting about how well it moves on the dance floor) could work. But beautiful? Sheesh.

* Telling me about your plan to propose to your Korean girlfriend and then hitting on me makes you come off like an ass.

* As does treating Koreans in the street like shit or talking trash about them because you think they don't understand (yes, that was the same charming fellow).

* Don't buy me a drink when I said I'm not drinking now.

* If you are trying to hit on me, talking about how hot all the Korean girls are isn't going to help your case or make me jealous. It makes me assume you have a thing for Asian chicks, at which point you become about as available to me as a gay man.

* It is NOT a cute, flirty compliment to tell a teacher that she must be the one all the boys in class want to sleep with. We don't want to think about that. Seriously.

* Don't bring up politics if you can't handle a girl with opinions.

* [Not that this one is about me, but I've had to intervene many times on friends' behalf] When a Korean girl says she's not interested (in whatever words she can muster that won't violate her long held beliefs about saving face and never directly refusing someone), but then laughs, it's because she's uncomfortable. Not because she's flirting. Back off.

* Yes, I will stop you from date raping a drunk friend; and no that's not considered "cock blocking."

* Oh yeah... and please never use that last phrase in my presence ever again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Benefits of Language Study

It would be exceptionally easy to be here for years as an English teacher and not learn much Korean at all and still have a great experience. In fact, many people I've met do just that. Most important signs are in Korean and English. At work (especially if you work in a hagwon), I don't need to use Korean (and some foreign teachers are actually discouraged by their bosses from learning Korean so that they have to speak to the students in English only). Many Koreans speak a little (or a lot of) English and are quite friendly and helpful. The expat bars in Daegu are ridiculously easy to find (go downtown at night and ask a friendly looking foreigner where Thunderbird or Commune's is and you're halfway there), so you can make friends quickly. Gesturing will get you pretty far in shopkeeper interactions and other necessities.

Many people who live here but don't want to study the language argue that Korean is pretty useless in the global scheme of things (hence why the peninsula is crazy to learn English). I guess unless you plan to stay here a long time or become a CIA agent specializing in North Korea, I can see why that might seem to be the case. I don't know why exactly I took to studying Korean so quickly, but boy am I ever glad I did. If you are a foreigner in Korea and wondering if it's "worth the effort" to learn the language, I'm going to give you ten reasons why my answer is an unequivocal "YES!"

1. The phonetic alphabet is not too hard to learn and more regular than English's phonics (which are a hybrid of too many languages to be logical). Similarly the grammar rules, while dramatically different than English, seem a lot more consistent.
2. It makes me better at my job. I can see why my students make the mistakes they do and help them to overcome these obstacles. (Just as a note, I don't talk in Korean in my class much and if they know, or should know, how to say something in English I still make them say it in English, even if I understand the Korean).
3. You get compliments about your language skills frequently, even if undeserved. Good for the ego.
4. You can approach all those cute Korean guys (or girls if that's what you're into) with slightly more confidence. Seriously.
5. With all those vowel sounds, it's a great language to whine in--even better than French!
6. Studying deepens my relationships with the Korean friends I've made and helps me to understand the culture in new ways.
7. It makes daily life here that much less frustrating.
8. Learning languages makes you smarter. I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere, but I'm too lazy to research it right now.
9. It impresses the hell out of other westerners who have labelled the Asian languages "too difficult" (they aren't, they're just really, really different). That includes many expats you meet over here.
10. It's fun because it seems like you're writing in a secret code--like in high school when you were passing notes you didn't want other people to be able to read. I know that many people can read and understand it, but it feels secret and fun to me somehow. Like how my parents used to speak Spanish when they didn't want my siblings and I to understand what they were saying, until I started learning it from listening to them and they gave up. And sometimes it feels like I'm solving a logic puzzle.

Korean is hardly my first foreign language--I've had a smattering of Spanish (enough to read Pablo Neruda poetry and listen to Shakira's music with minimal dictionary consultation), French (all I've retained are basic greetings, random vocabulary, and the ability to translate cute t-shirts with The Little Prince on them), and Latin (which I studied for one summer intensively and remember declensions, word order, and famous quotes like Cogito ergo sum and Veni, vidi, vici). However, I've never made it to competency (a substantial step down from fluency, but still impressive) in any language before, but I think I'd like to try to do that in Korean.

Give it a shot, ne (yes)?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Girl talk.

"How was your weekend?"

Se Jin turns her head a little. "It was terrible."

"Really? I'm sorry to hear that. What happened?"

"I had to go to my friend's wedding and help with the ceremony." From her tone of voice I know immediately what she is talking about. Single girl code transcends the boundaries of language.

"Yeah, weddings suck." She nods agreement. Quietly, "Sometimes I think, 남자 친구 있고 싶어요."

"Really?" She laughs and corrects my grammar, but I don't know the words she had me use, so I forget them now.

"A little. Well... sort of. It's like I get older, and I'm getting pickier and pickier. It's not enough anymore that he's cute and smart. He also has to be a good person, make me laugh, treat me very well... The list goes on. In a couple more years I may have managed to exclude upwards of 99.99% of the dating population on the planet, you know?"

A few minutes later. "My brother finishes his test on Sunday."

"Really? Tell him I say, 'Good luck.' Is there an expression for 'good luck' in Korean?" She tells me what it is. I forget (this happens a lot... I should write stuff down). "Ok, tell him I said that."

"You should call him and tell him."

"Oh my God, no! My Korean is not good enough for a phone call... Besides, he has my number [he obtained it in our phrase book game]. He can call me."

"Mmmm... Diana." She has a silly half grin on her face, the one she uses when she teases me about my crush and then proceeds to list all of her brother's good qualities. I am blushing. Again.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Too much downtown at night...

Makes Diana tired.

I had a lot of fun this weekend. And I have a scar on my leg to prove it (my leg got snagged on something metal on the dance floor of Club Monkey, but thankfully I'm up to date on my shots, right?). On Saturday night I attended a charity fundraiser organized by a couple expats who are headed to volunteer in the slums of Nairobi next year and the Daegu Rotary club. They raised over 7,000,000 won! You can read about it here. I really admire what Mel and Tracey are going to do. I've been looking for volunteer opportunities in Daegu because I miss it so much, and I think they're going to get me in touch with some orphanages downtown.

The thing about volunteering here is that technically, my visa wouldn't permit it (which is just exceptionally stupid). I think you can register at immigration and it doesn't cost too much, so I'll see if I can get Gwen to help me with that when she gets back to make it legal. I had mentioned it to her before and she doesn't seem to have a problem with it, so that's cool.

Anyhow, the event was a big party and I ran into lots of people I'd met around the 'gu before and kinda got talked into heading out to a bar after the dinner was over. I met some girls from Busan at the event who I ran into later on in the streets and they were gonna stay up until the morning train, so I decided to stay out with them and show them around a few places (with my lovely directional prowess--sigh, we only got lost once or twice). They were awesome cool people and it was good times. I ended up at Burger King after all the bars closed and had the first french fries I've had in 3 months. They taste better in memory.

Between Wednesday, Friday and Saturday last week, I'm turning into one of "those" expats... except I don't drink that much. It was fun and all, but gross! I think it was the holiday and winter--it's putting me on edge.

So, I started checking out temple stay options when I woke up on Sunday. I need some peace and culture.

Taekwondo this morning felt amazing. Sa Beom Nim had me go through each of the 4 forms I've learned at this point. I hadn't done the first one in awhile and I can really feel the difference in my own strength from the past few months and comfort with the actions compared to when I first learned it. The movement felt crisp and powerful and I was lighter on my feet and stronger in my punches. I love it! Why hadn't I done this before?

TV watching in Korea

I have cable in Korea. But there are only a few channels with English language programming. It's nice to have some, I'm not really complaining, but it does mean that I've been watching (I use this term loosely--I generally turn it on to have something in the background) a LOT of the Style Network. I know more about the latest celebrity news in America than any other news stories, which makes me feel a little sad and under informed, but apparently not enough to actually do something about it that often.

However, a couple days this week, the Style Network aired a new fancy ad for Samsung's Anyband experiment. Basically, it seems like they took some individual Korean pop stars and put them together to make this (warning, it's about nine minutes long):



What does it say about me that I'm completely obsessed with it? It's just so darn pretty... and cute... and optimistically dystopic.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Liancourt Rocks

Continuing my unqualified observations of a foreigner living in Korea, I find that most of my students work up a pretty fiery nationalistic fervor whenever someone mentions Dokdo, a few very small islands that are disputed territories between Japan and Korea. The history of the Liancourt Rocks, which is what western historians seem to call them as even their name is hotly debated, is fascinating for a couple of rocks so tiny that only two people actually reside on them.

It seems that Korea is much more excited over this rivalry than Japan. I liken it to Maryland's rivalry with Duke--Maryland hates Duke with the fiery passion of a thousand suns; Duke really hopes they beat the Terps when they play them, but doesn't really get too bent out of shape about it. Duke is Japan in this (admittedly pathetic) analogy.

I empathize with Korea's long and troubled history with Japan, and understand that Dokdo is really a symbol of all of those complicated feelings of oppression and resentment, but really the extreme to which Koreans sometimes take their love for Dokdo is a little ridiculous. They say they want to take vacations there and retire there. They mention Dokdo and then the next line is about how awful the Japanese are.

I give you this background so you can understand my amusement:

I discovered about a month and half ago that my Korean had improved enough to read the t-shirt Sa Beom Nim gave me to wear under my dobok the first week of taekwondo. It reads, "독도는 우리땅! 태권도는 우리운동! Dokdo is our land! Taekwondo is our sport!"

So it would seem that I own an incredibly nationalistic piece of Korean propaganda and wear it every day to sweat in. I laughed out loud when I figured this out. Gwen laughed, too. I told Se Jin. She said I should wear it to school.

And, of course, she also told me, "Oh, you are Korean!"

Thursday, November 22, 2007

"You are Korean!"

Apparently this is a compliment. I've gotten it several times, usually when attempting to speak botched Korean or one of my students catches me studying for class at my desk or something. Or when a Korean person finds out I do taekwondo.

This is strange. I'm ok being American. I don't really want to be Korean. I like a lot of Koreans I've met, it's just not who I am. I guess its like when my students back home would tell me that I wasn't "really" white (the majority of them were black).

I would always turn this one back around on them and ask them how they would like it if I told them they weren't "really" black and meant it as a good thing. They'd say I was racist! It's like in Huck Finn when he has this big revelation that he shouldn't treat Jim like crap because Jim was "white inside." The whole notion of denying a person's race in order to be granted entrance/belonging into the dominant race is problematic, and evidence of Huck's ingrained racist attitudes. (I had a whole essay on this topic in my AP class--the kids often used that one as evidence of Huck not being racist which made me want to cry and throw things!).

Not that I'm "proud" of being white or American or anything--I have as much liberal guilt as the next privileged schmuck with an open mind. At times I've felt ashamed of it. But as I get older and mellow out a bit, I just figure it's part of what makes me who I am. And I don't think it will make anything better to pretend I'm not. I'm interested in learning about other people and their lives--all parts of it. I think it's helpful to accept people for who they are and acknowledge where they come from.

But I don't say any of these things.

I smile and say thank you (or the appropriate humble sounding protestations). Maybe I'm getting a very, very small insight into what it's like to be one of the "good" minorities the States--meaning you shut up about your real feelings a hell of a lot of the time because you know it won't get you what you want.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Abroad.

I am grateful for so many things and people this year, I'm bound to forget someone, so I apologize in advance, because I am ever so grateful that people out there read this blog, so thank you gentle reader!

Focusing on this last year, I am grateful...
* to my parents. They have been supportive in surprising and amazing ways this last year--through all of my crazy transitions and mind changing.
* for my amazing little sister who is almost an adult, which delights and scares the crap out of me at the same time.
* that my brother seems to be doing better and that our relationship is the best it's been in maybe 6 years.
* for my amazing friends "back home" who have e-mailed me, left notes on my blog and facebook, and called me over here. It's so incredible to hear from you guys; it makes it a little easier to not be able to see you.
* for the 8 months I worked at the suicide/crisis hotline and the folks who worked there. Some of the best experiences of my life. I'm thinking about starting some volunteer work over here soon, I miss it so much.
* to all the people in Korea (and Gwen & Jane who are not in Korea at this time, but fall in this category) who are awesome and have helped make this a fantastic experience so far.
* for my friends and professors from my grad school program who have supported my writing in thousands of little ways.
* that Roosevelt (and all the wonderful people there) let me go. Sometimes letting people go gracefully is not at all easy. I felt pretty supported throughout the process, for which I will always be happy.
* that I've been able to stay in touch with my theater friends, even though I haven't really done any projects since A Midsummer Night's Dream.
* that I got to speak with/see a lot of my extended family before departure.
* and to my beautiful kitty, who has sat here purring on my lap the whole time I composed this, and who makes my life 100 times better in indescribable, intangible ways.

Last night I felt some antsy restlessness. I blame the fact that today is Thanksgiving--it could easily have been the early stirrings of homesickness. Fortunately, the girl I was supposed to meet downtown a couple weekends ago sent me a text message to ask if I was up for coming out. So I managed to stave off the sad feelings by hanging out downtown for a couple hours the first time on a weeknight. I ended up in a noraebang with a guy from DC who teaches yoga over here and an amazing singer/musician from PG county who works as a base contractor. Someone gave me the nickname "Fun Diana," which may be a first in my entire life. I tend to be more of a dork than a "fun" person, but I usually have a good time.

It was good, but taekwondo was brutal today. I don't think I'll be doing that again for awhile.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Journal writing in Korean.

My homework assignment for Korean class this week was to memorize a Korean tongue twister (I'm still working on it) and to start a journal in Korean. Our teacher promised to read whatever we wrote. So here's my first entry (corrected by the Korean teachers at school, who thought it was the funniest thing in the world that I'm writing in Korean). I feel a little like I'm back in elementary school.

지난 주말 좋았어요. 토요일에, 한국어 YMCA에서 공부했어요. 우리 선생님 많이 좋아요. 수업 후에 트래시하고 쇼핑했어요. 코트 샀어요. 그리고 나지 일본 친구들 만났어요. 저녁 식사했어요. 그 후로 같이 술 마시고 침을 췄어요. 오전 세시에 집에 갔어요.

일요일, 한국 친구 만났어요. 날씨 많이 추윘어요. 그래서 같이 앞산에 등산했어요. 후에 시내에서 저녁 식사했어요. 그 후로, 집에 갔어요. 많이 피근했어요. 오후 열시부터 오진열시까지 잤어요!

Translation: Last weekend was good. Saturday, I studied Korean at the YMCA. We like our teacher a lot. After class, I shopped with Tracey. I bought a coat. And then I met Japanese friends. We ate dinner. Then we drank alcohol and danced together. At 3 a.m., I went home.

Sunday I met a Korean friend. The weather was very cold. But, we hiked Apsan together. After, we ate dinner downtown. Then I went home. I was very tired. I slept from 10 p.m. until 10 a.m.!


That took me about 20 minutes to write and the same again to type it just now.

Pathetic, right?

I really liked it, though. I think I'll write another one about taekwondo later today.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The final images... a memorial service.

I'd been forcing my camera to take pictures this weekend until the hike in Apsan when I couldn't even use the viewfinder to focus the shots, so I had no idea whether the images would turn out. Now that I see a couple of the early ones turned out ok, I wish I had tried to take more at Apsan. But oh well. I'll get a new camera next payday. I've been hunting around on Korean websites. I should be able to get Samson or Se Jin to help me buy it.

Some things I loved about this weekend in Korea:

A delicious treat at The Holy Grill: chocolate chip cheesecake with ice cream and raspberry fudge. Oh. My. God.


The display of colors at Apsan


This guy was AWESOME. I hugged him and he turned bright red. All his friends at the store nearby hooted. Had I been braver and my camera more functional, I would have asked one of them to take a picture of me with him... but at least the image turned out. I'm glad it did, too, because this gives you a good idea about why shopping downtown instantly perks up my crappy moods.


We've had a good run, my little HP baby, but I'm ready for a new toy with some greater user functionality to practice my skills. Any of you photophiles got some suggestions for me? I'm at the advanced beginner/early intermediate stage of photography, enough where I've learned some shit about composition, lighting, and color (thanks yearbook!) and to know that there are more important things than megapixels, like focal length, image stabilization (for digital), shutter speed, etc. I'm thinking something like a point and shoot that allows manual focus and adjustment of some of them thar fancy photo terms so I can play around with 'em. Maybe something from the Canon Powershot line. What say you?

Why Diana's love life is so ridiculous (Part 4)

One year ago, today.

8 a.m. The first thought in my mind when I wake up is that something is terribly wrong. It's Sunday. The bed's comfy. I'd had enough sleep (for once no insomnia). My dreams were ok. But he isn't here. This has happened before--he sleeps on the couch a lot--but it seems wrong this time.

I crawl out of bed to go find him. He is on the couch.

"Come to bed, baby." I am being sweet. I gently tug on his arm to wake him up.

"Hold on a minute." It's a dismissal. He rolls back over.

"It's morning. You didn't come home until very late. I want to be cuddled."

He follows. He knows better than to ignore it. But something is wrong. I know it. I don't know how I know it, but the thought persists and the words bubble up before I can stop them. I don't even want to have this conversation now--it's too early. But still we sit on the bed, neither of us fully awake, and the words come out of my mouth.

"Something is wrong."

He looks at me. He's awake now. We both are. "I don't want to talk about this right now."

"What's 'this'? You've been distant this week. I haven't said anything because I figured you're busy, but it's more than that." I'm starting to get angry, but I keep calm on the outside. "What's going on?"

He breathes. I don't. "I met someone."

Pause. "You told me you were at a party last night. Were you with her?"

"Yes. And I could have cheated on you. But I didn't."

So, what the fuck, I'm supposed to be grateful you piece of shit? But I don't shout. "And?"

"And what? I told you. There." He's not even looking at me. I've already been erased. I take in the picture of us from the ski trip to Colorado hanging on the wall of our bedroom--our bedroom--looking so happy.

"What do you want to do about it?" He doesn't respond. Apparently, I'm talking to a little boy now. I break it down. "I mean do you want to work things out with me, or do you want to pursue her?"

He finally looks at me. "I don't know. I just met her. And she lives so far away--it probably wouldn't work out anyhow--but... I don't know. We just--clicked. You understand?"

"Just to be clear then--it's her."

"I guess--yeah."

"Ok. Please leave the room now. I need to get dressed and pack up my things. I'm moving out."

"Today? You don't have to go. You can stay until you find another place or something--"

I'm not going to cry in front of him. Fucker. Not going to cry. "I asked you to leave. I'm not dressed."

He stands. Turns back at the door. "Fuck, this is hard."

"What's hard?" I'm amazed how calm I am.

"I've never broken up with someone I still care about. I mean someone whose life I'd like to turn out well."

That's because you let things drag on until you hate the other person. You'd let me stay here if I wanted to. You'd let me come to your family's Thanksgiving next week. You'd act like nothing was wrong, except I'd know. I always know. "That's sad, Dan. Please leave. Now."

He closes the door. I sit on the bed for a few minutes, not trusting myself to move. It dawns on me that I'm feeling some relief that my anxiety this last week was not just in my imagination. Dan's good on paper, always has been, but in the flesh, something seems lacking. I'd been fantasizing for months about moving into my own apartment, researching teach abroad programs and new jobs, been severely depressed for no reason since his brother's wedding in August, and when I wasn't with him, I couldn't recall Dan's face (I kept seeing Jeff's, actually). In retrospect, something wasn't right for a very long time. Like almost all of the nearly two years we'd been together.

In the shower, the doubts and questions start back up. I love this house--the nicest place I've lived in since I moved out of my parents'. What am I going to tell our roommates? Fuck it, let him deal with Ken. Anne will understand. Where am I going to live? What about our trip to Whistler in March and the one to France for Christmas? What about his parents (I love Dan's family so much)? I'll never see them again. That's so sad... Who the hell is this bitch and what's so fucking special about her that he'll throw away our history for the possibility of something with her? I've gained weight. Maybe that's it. [I'm not particularly proud of this last line of thinking.]

It occurs to me now that not one of these thoughts is sadness over losing Dan. My heart is not broken, though my pride is severely bruised.

The shock sets in. I call Sarah. She hops on the metro right away. God, I love my sister. I move out later that day to stay with my parents in Damascus. The Friday of Thanksgiving--one week later--I moved into my apartment in Greenbelt.

***

Dan was not the guy I dated after Ric. Between them was James, who has the same name as one of my brothers. This was ok because he was known as "The Jame." Jame was six and half feet tall (well, 6' 5.5"), a would-be Zionist, and a close friend of both Tom #3 and me. I helped him run his failed campaign for SGA president at college, and we hung out a few times the summer after we graduated. He was heading to law school that fall, and I was starting the PGCPS Resident Teacher program. I developed a huge crush on him.

The night I moved into my first apartment in Beltsville with Anne, I saw him. We stayed up late talking. He kissed me.

After that, we started dating. It was only a few weeks until he left for New Jersey, but we agreed to keep seeing each other. It lasted three months. (Something about November is strange for me with relationships--so many of them start and end at this time; the other month for that is September--so much for spring fever, eh?).

One time on the phone with Jame, he asked where I saw myself in five years. I remember saying I didn't really know, but that within ten years I'd like to have lived in another country, written some stuff that got published, and maybe get a graduate degree of some kind. He said, with some hint of scorn, that within five years, I'd be married and having kids. I said that would depend on circumstances.

Three years later, he is married. I am living in South Korea.

***

Breaking up with Jame brought up a lot of the feelings I'd avoided after breaking up with Tom #3 because he remained good friends with Tom, because it was the only relationship I've had that I wanted to continue at the time and the other person didn't, and because I didn't hop right back into another relationship. In fact, the most depressed I've been about being single was in the three months between Jame and Dan. I experienced fear bordering on panic. I wasn't in school anymore--I didn't meet new guys on a regular basis and most of the ones I met seemed to be in relationships already.

This fear could explain how I ended up meeting Dan on match.com and falling into my good on paper "perfect" relationship without really thinking about if I liked him all that much.

So what happened with Dan and the other girl?

Well, I being the keen observer of human relations that I am kindly suggested that his feelings for her may be a manifestation of what was lacking in our relationship and that he take some time to process that before jumping the gun. And then I didn't speak to him again.

He took her on the trip to France he planned for us. He proposed to her on New Year's Day. They've been married since sometime around February or March of this year. She has two kids from previous relationships. He always said he hated the thought of raising other people's kids.

Anne and Ken give it a year until the divorce proceedings begin. I'm more generous. I think they'll last three or four.

Poor kids.

I feel kind of sad that my fondest memories of my life with Dan are of the trips we took, the wine we drank, and the meals we ate. With other guys, I have more happy things to say about the guys themselves. All I can say about Dan is that he's intelligent, attractive, ambitious, and has a great job. He's a really good friend to his high school buddies. Sometimes he's funny.

He also has no emotions whatsoever. He's extremely shallow and petty. He has a mean streak and he's very selfish. I kept thinking there must be more to him, but looking back, I'd say my psyche knew more than I did. I have a pretty intuitive little psyche when I bother to listen to it. I just elected not to for 22 months or so.

And so, that basically catches you up on where I am today--flirty and mildly boy crazy in Korea.

Happy one year, Diana. This is definitely the best relationship you've ever had!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Digital Camera, RIP.

Oh my darling little baby--you've been dying for some time now. I took you to Apsan yesterday to go hiking with Se Jin--the weather was perfect and we got a ride from her brother because he was worried about us (silly overprotective menfolk)--and you died. Perhaps you were intimidated by the beauty of the mountain. I'm sorry you're dead. I will cry until I buy a new one...

Hiking is amazing. Apsan (literally translated, "Front Mountain") had some respectable rock scrambling, even though it was a pretty short hike. I saw some pretty intense colors on the mountain and it made me sad for my camera's death. There were cats and strange birds and the usual exercise platforms on the way up the mountain. Many people were using them, which made me (and my exceptionally-tired-from-dancing-the-night-before legs) want to cry.

As usual, the 50 year old and up ajummas and ajosshis were whipping past the younger folks, myself included. I'm not sure whether it makes me hopeful because I can be healthier well into middle age or to cry because I'm pretty much the most in shape I've been in my adult life and yet, they are still more capable. America is an evil land of delicious food and too much convenience. Our wealth has made us lazy and fat, dammit. I love my country in many ways, but there are many things that other places just have better ideas about.

Se Jin is a great hiking companion, because her pace is pretty close to mine most of the time and we're ready for breaks at around the same time. Plus, she's just a really fun person. We talked about all kinds of great stuff and she taught me more Korean, like the gerund forms ("ing" in English).

After stumbling down the mountain, we caught a bus that went straight to downtown and got yummy Indian food. It was a lovely day, but I was pretty exhausted by the time I got home. A few minutes with Marquez and I passed out on the couch.

I was woken by the cold and crawled under the blankets for a very lovely sleep. My ondol heating (the floor gas heating) only sort of works since Mr. Yu had it worked on, so my apartment is still very cold. It makes it hard to be motivated to do things around the apartment at night. But that's ok.

And in other good news, I've overcome my weight loss plateau and am back on track towards my goal. I'm officially 10 kilos down since I arrived in Korea. Yay!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I needed that.

Yesterday was fantastic.

I headed downtown for class feeling less than stellar because I hadn't slept too well the night before. However, as usual class was lots of fun, so I was feeling much more chipper when three gals and I headed out to find a new restaurant for lunch. We fell upon the mecca of cute--a little coffee shop that served a very tasty cheese ddokboki for less than $4 and was, apparently, THE hot spot for high school students on first dates. It was rather silly.

Then I set off with Tracey on my mission to find a stylish winter coat. You see, I brought my ski coat, which has been fine for warmth, but when I go out in it, I feel dumpy and uncool. I miss my red coat, but it had outlived its time. Tracey was kind in showing me around to some of the cute, trendy downtown shops that weren't too expensive. I saw quite a few things I liked--a sweatshirt that said "New Yorker, Garden State" in a green shade, for example--but the trouble is that I am not built like a Korean woman. Or even close to it. Thanks to the 80s trend here, many of the styles were floaty around the hips so they fit my curves, but I still have shoulders and boobs. Apparently women aren't supposed to have either, you see. So nothing fit. I even went to the department stores where things were majorly overpriced.

I was just about to give up, when I wandered into a store next to Kyobo bookstore and saw a minuscule section labeled "Big Size." I found a cute black coat in what would be a US size medium that fits well and makes me feel much happier wandering around downtown. I decided to reward my good shopping day with a caramel macchiato from the Kyobo Starbucks and reading a bit of my next book for the bookclub (I'm already in love with Marquez).

But, when I got there, I happily ran into two students in the advanced class, a teacher named Trey from Atlanta and a Japanese student named Yumiko. Trey has been here awhile and was introducing Yumiko to a Japanese friend of his, Yoshi, who's been a professor here for about 6 years. It turned out that Yumiko and Yoshi are from the same small region in Japan, so they were having a blast chatting in Japanese with their local accents. I had a fine conversation with Trey in the meantime; he may even join the book club!

Trey had another engagement, so I went to dinner at The Holy Grill with Yumiko and Yoshi, both of whom speak near to fluent English and Korean, so we had a lot of fun. The Skins game was on the TV, which was a little surreal. The food was great (again). I tried their chocolate cheesecake; it was heavenly. We had a good time talking and Yumiko agreed to meet up with David from the beginner class later that night (this took some convincing because she lives in a dorm with a curfew). And apparently Yoshi's a popular guy around the expat community because he seemed to know everyone, including the owner of The Holy Grill, so I chatted with a bunch of different people over the evening.

The it was off to find David and the birthday party, but first stopping by to see Yumiko's boyfriend, a Korean student studying Japanese who works part time for one of the handphone companies. We got lost a couple times because her sense of direction is worse than mine, but we met him and the conversation turned Korean because while he speaks Japanese and they speak English, Korean was the only language we all could sort of understand each other in... Oh my!

At Thunderbird's for the birthday party, I met some awesome people, including another girl from Maryland, and ran into a bunch of people I'd met before in various circumstances. Then we got the strong urge to dance, so it was off to Club Frog, or as I like to call it, the place you're likely to get pregnant without removing any clothing. I danced my little heart out. And then Yumiko's boyfriend got tired, so they left and Frog was giving me a headache so Yoshi and I headed to Bubble. Bubble had a lot more room to dance, so I broke out my inner PG county and lost 3 kgs in sweat alone. This was confirmed on the scale this morning. I was impressed with Yoshi's ability to keep up with my dancing (I don't meet many men who can do that, so I usually tone it down to make them feel better...).

We bid adieu at 3 am.

As he put it, sometimes you've just gotta dance it all out.

Dance it all out, everybody.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Why Diana's love life is so ridiculous (Part 3)

I can't do it. I can't blog about Tom #3 (or as my father lovingly calls him "Tom the Turd"). Not in the way I want to. Sigh. One day... I swear.

Onward, then. It's terrible to call the next guy a rebound, because Ric's an awesome person who is still a friend and the only ex who I know for a fact reads this thing on a semi-regular basis. Unfortunately, upon much reflection, that is what I believe he was for me--an eight month breather to get my head on straight.

After I ended things with Tom #3, I was heartbroken in a way I've only just now begun to recognize. However, that time was also the shortest I've ever been single between serious relationships in my entire life. I lasted all of a week and a half. I'm not exactly proud of it. What can I say? It was my extra senior year of college (after the mono junior year I needed another semester, which I turned into a year so I could be a resident assistant, take theater and writing classes, and, originally, finish the math part of my degree and spend more time with Tom #3 who was a year behind me...). I was needy.

The circumstances of our getting together are bizarre, even without the rebound melodrama. We had been in a community theater production together when I spent that summer on campus. He wasn't a college student anymore (at the time he was in customer service). I knew he liked me (even before I broke up with Tom #3, though his amorous pursuit had become more intense in the week since I announced my status as single).

We had spent one Saturday afternoon together, and he continued to entertain me as I went "on duty" in my residence hall. We were flirting and talking and watching movies when a junior girl came into the office.

"Are you a cool RA?" she asks. I'm not, but the way she says it lets me know that it would be in the best interest of serving my duties to let her think I was.

"What's the problem?" I say, trying to sound my "coolest."

"There's a girl outside who's a little drunk. She just needs to come in and go to sleep, but she's afraid you'll write her up."

Ugh. Drunk shenanigans again. "Don't worry; I'd rather she's safe. Tell her to come inside."

"Cool."

I want to go back in time and kill this bitch. Twenty seconds later she and two other friends carry a freshman girl inside who is so far gone on alcohol poisoning that she is unconscious, barely breathing, and pukes all over them in the entrance hall. They drop her into a pile of her own vomit (literally) and run, because she was pledging the organization they were in charge of and they didn't want to get in trouble. I call 911 and the campus police while a good friend of mine who happened to be hanging around the dorm even though she lived somewhere else, holds the girl's head in a position where she can't choke on her own vomit.

I spent the next three hours dealing with the incident (and other related ones). It really shook me up bad, because if this girl hadn't started puking when she did, causing them to drop her, they would have left her in her bed, possibly to die. By the time I remembered Ric, I assumed he'd be gone.

Nope.

He had been the one to break out the mop and clean the front entrance of the dormitory (we don't have a night cleanup crew at the dorms on weekends at my small college). And he held my hand after it was all over. I needed someone to hold me.

And of course, it turned more romantic over the next few weeks...

Ric was the only guy I've dated seriously who shared my arts--writing and theater. This made things pretty intense at times. And a little competitive. I think some of the best things I've written came from this time in my life. For that, I will always be grateful.

Ric's a really nice guy. A really nice, normal guy who wants, more than anything else in the world, to be melodramatic and fucked up. It would never have worked in a million years. Because I'm the precise opposite--a really fucked up and melodramatic person who wants more than anything in the whole world to be normal. He wants to be the hero and rescue someone, but he doesn't have the ambition most of the time to actually do it. He gets bored easily, but his idea of a date is to watch movies or play video games with no other interaction. And sometimes he drinks too much and brags about it or he gets angry and punches holes in walls so he can show the scars and holes off later. I was more disturbed by his exhibitionist compulsion to show off the one or two bad habits he had than I ever was by those bad habits.

In the end, he dumped me. Thankfully. I was horrible to him those last few weeks because I had finally figured out that I wasn't in love with him. We're so much better off as friends. He still pisses me off sometimes (like when he recounts nuances of our early romantic relationship details--the kind of sweet stories you tell about your current beau--at a party with mutual friends and another more recent ex of his sitting right there, more than three years after we've broken up), but I love him and I hope he finds whatever it is that he is seeking.

And though your name ain't really Ric, I'll send this little message out to you: I know you read this thing, I'll apologize now if my recounting of this tale pisses you off. You know I haven't said anything here I wouldn't say to your face--and I've left a lot of things out about us and about you that I cherish and things that I abhor in my memories, but they are ours alone, forever. Call me anytime.

Hell, when I really think about it, that message applies to all my exes and all my friends and family. Some more than others. Such is the nature of memoir writing (which is as good a genre as any for this blog). Honesty in writing is such a relative term. Can I ever give true words to the experiences that transcend them?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

We're back!

When I got home last night, the thermometer said I was over 100. This morning, I'm fine. In between there was a lot of moaning and sweating and wishing for miracles and angry cats because I forgot to feed her until I got up again at 2 am... Remind me not to blog while sick again, please. It's pretty bad.

So that's the bad news. The wonderful news is that at taekwondo today, Sa Beom Nim gave us our belt tests and kindly (against all ordinary tradition) told us we passed and that we'll get our new belts on Monday! Rocking! I was, quite frankly, a little sick of pink.

Speaking of pink, though, I've almost finished Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell--the book that started the the amazing TV series and will soon have a movie come out. It's very interesting to see the creative process at work, especially given the recent Writer's Guild of America strikes. Bushnell is a fantastic, lively essayist with an ear for dialogue and a knack for being at all the right parties in New York during the 90s to get some bizarre and awesome material. I've been really enjoying reading her work and the glimpse into the very tiny Manhattan subculture of those possessing the privileges (and burdens/responsibilities, although most of them recklessly choose to ignore this side of things) of power, beauty, and wealth.

But the tv writers turned it into a heartwarming show about female friendship that relates to way more than just the ego-maniacal, self-centered, sex-crazed New York "elite." The show's appeal to the masses has less to do with its New York setting and loose morals and more to do with the evolving and powerful friendships between the four main characters as they look for love in a city that is decidedly "too cool" for romance. That takes some skill. And sounds like a dream job to me, still.

I need to get serious on the sending out my writing thing. It's like... the worst thing that will happen is that it gets rejected and remains unpublished, which is what's happening now anyways!

Ugh.

I'm at work right now and so sick I feel like I've been run over by a truck. Or five. Sick enough I'm using such god awful cliches.

I think it was the sushi for lunch. I had yummy sushi, but I must have got the bad piece. I hope, like most food problems, it is resolved in the morning with only minimal damage. I missed TKD today. It was very sad.

Then again, I have been awful tired lately. Maybe it's been coming on for a couple weeks.

Linsey was very concerned when she saw me flopped over in my chair at the last break. Samson and Simon offered to take me home but I only have one class left, and even though Calvin's in it, he's pretty cowed today 'cause Jenny caught him cheating on her test. They probably won't have done their homework (god I'm such a bad teacher for hoping this is the case), so I think I can manage five minutes of play acting fury and disappointment followed by silent exercises. Many, many silent exercises.

I started this entry to keep my brain functioning, update you with details of my life you have no need or desire to know, and satiate your obsessive need to know my inner thoughts (ha ha). It has served its purpose. Please forgive any writing abhorrences.

I'm sure I can convince Samson to drive me home. Then it's sleep time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

We return you to your regularly scheduled program.

I'm just not up to the task of blogging about the next relationship today. He may be the only one I've ever really loved. Breaking up with Tom #3 was, hands down, the hardest thing I ever had to do. It was not made easier when his best friend told me, a week later, that he had actually bought the ring; although breaking up with him was the right thing to do, I am still afraid I would not have had the heart to say no.

I'm going to a book seminar for the Oxford Book ESL teaching series that makes ESL versions of classic tales. It's at the same time that I am supposed to go to taekwondo. It will be the first time I've missed TKD since I started, and that's included a time with a pretty serious cold. I'm kinda proud of not missing a day, so it's doubly disappointing. On the plus side, I was able to explain to Sa Beom Nim when and why we wouldn't be there using the future tense and he complimented my Korean--which was kind of him. Maybe if I'm really good, I'll go jogging tomorrow morning. It's been awhile since I've tried, and I think I'm in better shape now, so maybe I'll do it just to see if I am.

Today Sa Beom Nim broke out the mitts again for the first time since I pulled something a week and a half ago while practicing side kicks. I love the mitts. It gives me the chance to make contact with my kicks with minimal possibility of injuring someone else. I'm still more afraid of hurting someone else than being hurt, which I need to get over if I'm gonna spar with people. The satisfying smack of the mitt when I kick it gives me a little rush.

I think we're being prepped for belt testing. Sa Beom Nim had Samantha and I each run through the highest pomsae we've each learned by ourselves and talking to us after. The third pomsae form is a bit more challenging than the first two (I feel) because it adds another stance, back stance. I can feel myself improving with speed and power from two months ago. He criticized my heavy landings again. I still am landing too hard on my feet, directing power into the floor instead of into my kicks and punches. I need to work on that.

I saw an ad for a new yoga studio in my neighborhood. I'm curious. Maybe one of the Korean teachers could help me find it. I love TKD and totally intend to keep it up, but I miss the serenity and meditation of yoga. It's hard to force myself to do it alone in my apartment (although I still do sometimes)--I'm still trying to make sure I do my strength training two or three days a week.

Hopefully today's long breaks will allow me to finish the newsletter at Oedae. It would be silly if the "fall" letter came out in winter... oops! I miss Gwen.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Why Diana's love life is so ridiculous (Part 2)

Jeff came next. At a week or so under two and a half years, He remains my longest relationship to date (probably because most of it was long distance--we went to different colleges, although who knows?). Jeff was (and still is) a great guy.

He went to the same high school as I did, although he was two years ahead of me. He was tall and thin with curly black hair (yes, I have a physical type... I get over it in later relationships...). We always had a playfully flirtatious friendship based on a bizarre shared sense of humor. He would yell, "Smurf!" at me when he saw me walking down the hall, and I would look around in amazement, asking, "Where? Where?" He loved to make puns, and I would gamely roll my eyes at them. When he went off to school in Philly, we kept in touch through e-mail and a linux chat program run by my crazy techie dork friends at Blair called "ytalk".

Over Thanksgiving break of my senior year (his sophomore year of college), we got together to go hang around the Rodin art exhibit at the downtown DC galleries. I saw the first original plaster version of The Thinker, which is much smaller than you'd expect it to be, and flirted mercilessly. By the time he returned for winter break, we were a couple.

Although a large percentage of this relationship was conducted through instant message and telephone, out of necessity, we saw each other on breaks and taking Amtrack trips every couple months. Jeff did tai chi and majored in Astrophysics. He had a habit of trying to correct all of my bad habits, like my tendency to apologize for things that aren't my fault (which I kind of appreciate now) to the awkward, heavy way I walked when I was overweight (which I still don't). Jeff encouraged my punning ways and introduced me to writer Spider Robinson. I learned how to be a girlfriend mostly from Jeff.

My adjustment to my first year of college was torn emotionally because of my continued commitment to Jeff. By the time I became fully enmeshed in my St. Mary's life during my second year of school, got over a long term depression, and lost a lot of weight, we were growing apart. Jeff was applying to law schools, a radical departure from the astrophysics he had been studying. I was switching from a focus on theater to a love for English. I turned vegetarian and started doing yoga.

I became concerned about my place in his life. I began to suspect that rather than love me, Jeff loved the idea of having a smart, pretty girlfriend. Whenever he realized how intelligent I was (like when I started taking Linear Algebra class "for fun"), he would get nervous--like it was ok for me to be smart, but not ok for me to be smarter than him.

And I met another Tom.

This Tom was not my physical type at all, except in height, but he was funny as all hell and sweet beyond belief. We became good friends, but I found myself thinking about Tom often.

I was smart enough to realize that my feelings for Jeff were not as strong as they once were well before anything with Tom came to fruition. I was not content to fill a role. I wanted to be loved for who I was (still do). I took a job on campus for the summer studying Optics with my Physics professor and went up to Philly for the last time to say goodbye to Jeff just as the year was ending. There was a lot of crying and cuddling and talking. But then, it was over.

The shock of ending a relationship that had lasted so long took awhile to get over--but my crush on Tom grew and he did become my next boyfriend...

Jeff and I have stayed in touch on and off over the years. I wish sometimes our friendship was still strong. I always think of Jeff as my most normal (psychologically... I'm only really attracted to quirky, strange people) ex-boyfriend. I was even going to visit him (he's a practicing lawyer still in Philly now) before my departure to South Korea.

But then he dropped a bomb on me one day this summer. He confessed that he had a very serious addiction that he is now in treatment for, and while he has not gotten to the apologizing stage of his treatment (you know the whole 12 steps thing?), he told me it impacted the years we were dating a lot.

So much for normalcy.

I've thought a lot about it, since he told me. About how someone with that pathology as my norm-reference for relationships could explain some of my own unhealthy relationship behavior since then. About how much courage it took him to tell me that, so many years later. About how fucked up I was (psychologically) during the time I was dating him, although both of us were fully aware of my depression and the issues I was working through at that time because I'm that kind of pathetically open person, and how his being there for me might have been a way for him to avoid dealing with his own problems. About what might have happened if I hadn't broken up with him (I don't know that he would have broken up with me...). About what our relationship would have been like if we'd spent more of it in each other's presence instead of in different cities...

Maybe when we have a relationship like that, we forever leave a little piece of ourselves with the person and forever carry a little piece of them with us. Maybe it's arrogance to assume that healing after a break up means we are "over" the person who was such an important part of our lives for so long. I spend a lot of time and energy trying to prove how "over" my exes I am--for what reason? My life after each relationship will never be the same as it was before that relationship. Why not acknowledge and embrace the interdependence of humans in this world?

Because, quite frankly, the thought of being with some of my exes reviles my inner being. I don't have many "what was I thinking?" moments, so much as, "why the hell didn't I see that then?" moments. But to be honest, I couldn't have seen it at the time. For whatever reason, that time in my life had a blind spot that has since been illuminated...

More thoughts to come.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Why Diana's love life is so ridiculous (Part 1)

One week from today, I celebrate the one year anniversary of my relationship with myself. That's my suave, clever way of saying I've been sans boyfriend--single--for a year. So in this week's blogs, I'll be sharing some misadventures in dating for your entertainment and my complete humiliation.

You see, although I tend to have fairly stable (Sam says "boring") relationships, the endings of these things tend to be spectacularly melodramatic. Not because anyone's heart is broken or we slash each others' tires or anything, but because apparently dating me was the last holdout of sanity for most of my exes. Meaning that, shortly after breaking up, most of my exes seem to have gone batshit crazy off the deep end. The level of insanity varies, as do the specific DSM IV diagnosis for each ex, but this pattern seems to hold true for far too many of them.

Although maybe from their perspective, I'm the one gone loony by relocating to the bizarre land of South Korea... But I'll share some of the stories and you can decide for yourself.

Be warned that some of the names of the gentlemen involved may be changed, lest we tarnish their reputations. Poor lads.

My first real boyfriend was the first in a long (ok, three) series of boys named Tom (spelled in various ways). I was 15. I thought I was kind of pathetic being 15, pretty cute, heavily involved in theater, and still never having been kissed. Then there was this cute, funny actor with black, curly hair. I have a thing for guys with black, curly hair... He paid attention to me, so of course I wrote poems about being in love with him (I wasn't... but I was fifteen and a would-be poet).

Then one late night backstage after Chinese food, set construction, and flirting incessantly, he kissed me. I was on Cloud 9. High school was so easy, in retrospect. You kissed someone and then he was your boyfriend. He gave you a rose or two when the show opened or closed and you tried to manufacture times when you could be alone.

Tom #1 thought the poem of Shakespeare's that begins "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun..." was the most romantic thing ever. I knew that was obnoxious, but I smiled and nodded and looked forward to never having my looks praised. But I guess I was wrong. During one of those stolen moments of fumbling, awkward makeout sessions, I had stopped him from going any further, and he turned to me and said, "God, you're so hot. If I was any other guy, you'd so be raped right now."

Um... the fuck??? Although 15 year old, unconfident me didn't say anything to this jackass comment, even then I knew it was full of shit. I'm supposed to be grateful to you for not forcing me? What strange world do you live in, dude, that this is a compliment?

Oh yeah. The one where you are secretly in love with your best friend, Ben. Now, I don't know if this particular fellow has come out of the closet yet, but I'm pretty damn sure he will. The signs were all there. I just pray it's before he gets married to a woman and has children...

And eventually, he made out with my friend Susan (who didn't know we were dating at the time) at a New Year's Party in front of all our mutual friends (who did know...) while we were still technically "going out," thus ending this charming first attempt at love.

After him was the Thom who stalked me with all the roses. I recently got back in touch with him to find out that he's much better looking than he was in high school, finishing his Ph.D., running a photography business, and married. I wonder if he's still a psycho. I hope not... Especially because he told me his wife is pregnant.

My god... they're breeding.

After the stalker, I took the longest break from relationships I've ever had since that first kiss (although who knows when this current stretch will end). Partly it was because I was madly in love with my best male friend and partly because I was experiencing the most serious depression of my life during my junior year of high school.

These first two romantic forays were not serious, though of course they felt that way at the time. I came out of it all pretty unscathed...except for the unhealthy pattern of forgiving too much and accepting too much shit from guys in exchange for affection. Sometimes I wish I could go back to the younger parts of myself and shake some confidence into them.

But then I wouldn't appreciate how awesome self confidence is. And let me assure you, it is awesome.

An awesome day...

I slept without waking to an alarm clock during reasonable hours for the first time in quite a few weeks. It began my day well.

I was supposed to meet a girl downtown for lunch who I had met in at the T-bird's Halloween shindig. She agreed to meet, but never responded to my last text where I suggested meeting at Kyobo at 1:30, so I wasn't sure if she'd be there. I called her a couple times (she didn't answer) and hung around the bookstore for a bit, willing myself not to buy anything because I just sent all my money back to the US to pay bills and I have tons of unread books in my apartment. I was just about to leave and go grab lunch when a cute, Korean guy approached me.

"Hello, where are you from?"

"Hello. I'm from America."

"I am a student from Kyungbuk University, and since you are a native speaker, I was hoping I could practice my English with you."

Well, I'm thinking, at least he's up front about using me for English practice. I agree to speak with him (although normally I prefer to practice my Korean with random Koreans I've just met). While he's cute, I'm not feeling much of a connecting vibe--being used for my English and all--so I tell him I haven't had lunch and need to go eat.

"Do you mind if we ate together and could continue our conversation?" He grins sheepishly. He has a very cute grin. I'm a sucker for these things.

He doesn't like Indian food (which is what I was craving), so I suggest Japanese instead. He's from Daegu and says he knows a place to get great Japanese. Walking around downtown he says his English (confirmation--he's Catholic) name is Simon. We're getting along pretty well at this point, so I'm thinking it's cool and then...

We end up at the food court of Dong-A department store.

Now, I'm a pretty laid back gal when it comes to where and what to eat if I'm hanging out with my new cute Korean pal who is openly using me for language practice, but even I know better places to get less pricey sushi in town and I've not even been here three months.

But the food ended up being decent with a moderately sized plate for about $5, so I was relaxing and thinking things were cool again. But then the check comes and he not only fails to offer to pay, but doesn't give me the change from my $10 (man won) bill! Ugh.

He offers me Baskin Robbins as a present for helping him practice language and I want to ask him for my change instead, but I hadn't had good ice cream in such a long time. I'm a sucker for almond mocha fudge...

It's my own fault really for volunteering to be a language whore, but I still think it's just bad manners to steal someone's change unless they're offering to pay for you!

After being stood up, or something, and spending too much on food that wasn't Indian, I thought I'd cheer myself up with a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato and reading the rest of Siddhartha before meeting my book discussion book. Good decision. Very good decision. So good, in fact, that I got two. And went back to Kyobo to treat myself to Candace Bushnell's Sex in the City, the collection of columns about New York life upon which the tv show is based.

***

Later I meandered over to Italy Italy to meet up with the book group. I knew Meg from Korean class at the YMCA, but I'd only met Mike once before when he was drunk and hadn't met Nick or Tim before. However, this turned a strange but eventful day into a really great and memorable one as we started discussing the search for meaning in Siddhartha's life and comparing it to our own choice to live abroad. We had some really amazing intellectual conversation, the first bottle of red wine I've had in about three months, and awesome make-your-own pasta. I'd forgotten how much I thrive on discussions of spiritual debate. I have a lot from that meeting I'll be chewing over in my mind for the next few days or longer. Once I have some sorted out, I may post here about it. Or not. We'll see...

Our next book is (at my suggestion) One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I'm quite excited. I've not read Marquez before, but given my love for magical realism, interest in Hispanic literature/culture, and the high recommendations this book has gotten from people I know whose tastes I respect, it should be a fine choice.

The best part of today, I realized on the subway right home, is how normal everything felt. I keep thinking I have to have big, exciting adventures to make my life abroad more interesting, but when it comes down to it, it's the simple everyday connections and the openness to possibilities of all kinds that makes life exciting. And fulfilling.

It's almost like coming here has turned the mundane exotic--and that's a pretty awesome feeling.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Why?

Why is every single older man in Korea so desperately concerned about my lack of boyfriend? Seriously, from taxicab drivers to the retired school teachers I met on the subway today, everyone acts like it's the biggest problem in the world that I am single. Not that I'd mind meeting someone cool, but I'm really enjoying being on my own at the moment. It seems like that's just not allowed over here.

So strange.

Friday was pepero day (well, technically it's 11/11, since pepero candy is long and thin) and the secretary brought in this awesome homemade pumpkin rice cake thing, so I ate a lot of food that was free. It's nice to be appreciated. I think I've gotten more presents in my three months of teaching than I did in my three years stateside. Sure, I had a few students who were appreciative of my efforts over there, they just REALLY know how to treat teachers here.

But I think it's more than that. The hospitality and kindness of Korean people seems bottomless. While Americans are a more outwardly friendly lot, I have been shocked by the generosity of many people I've met here. It's odd because strangers (like on the subway and the street) are more rude than they are back home--no greetings, mostly just shoving and glares with the occasional spitting right in front of you--but the people I have any kind of relationship with--my landlord, Sa Beom Nim, the students' parents, other Korean teachers, friends I meet--go out of their way to help me enjoy my experience here. I can never hope to repay any of them, even if I am here for years. I try... but it's overwhelming.

I am so lucky sometimes. I live a pretty blessed existence.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bloody Coffee and Hundreds of Roses

In Korean, the vowels 어 (romanized "eo" and pronounced like the "o" in dog or mom) and 오 (romanized "o" or "oh" and pronounced like the "o" in wrote or post) sound very similar. There is also no letter for the "f" sound, so many adapted English words use "ㅍ" which sounds like English "p." So the word for cellphone (they call it a "handphone") is 한드폰, and is pronounced something like han-du-pone.

I tell you this because yesterday in my very strange class (these ridiculously smart 2nd and 3rd graders--the one with "Teacher, this is not typical" Billy), we were doing a lesson about giving reasons that involved the dialogue:

Teacher: Why do you boil the water?
Students: Because I want to make coffee.

But the Korean word for coffee, 커피 (Keo Pee), sounds a lot like another pair of Korean words, 코 (Koh), meaning nose, and 피 (Pee), meaning blood. So 코피 is a bloody nose. Of course little ones find this HILARIOUS. (Honestly, so do I, as most English speakers will frequently mispronounce their order at Starbucks, instead asking for the barista to punch them... I do it, too.)

But these little would be geniuses took it to a new level yesterday. One formed his own little dialogue adaptation:

Teacher: Why do you punch the Sam [Sam is his female cousin who is in the same class]?
Jason: Because I want to make a 코피!

And then Terry broke out the red marker to illustrate for me, you know in case I didn't get it the first time:



Even better, Eric (just as a side note, he is Sa Beom Nim's son), broke out the GREEN marker to make an alien 코피. Unfortunately, he got a little camera shy.

And though I can mock the kiddies for their obsession with silly words that sound like other words in Korean, I couldn't get out of my head the fact that nose bleed sounds a lot like nose pee to me in English. Tee hee. Maybe my maturity level is about at their level. Is that good or bad?

Finally, one of the Korean teachers had a birthday this week. Apparently she is quite popular, as this arrived for her on that day:



I asked if it was from her new boyfriend (she may have a new boyfriend this week), and she said no, but that he gave her 100 roses last week.

That's right. One hundred.

She then took out her handphone picture of it to show me the bouquet that put the above monstrosity to shame. It's a little shocking.

I mean, roses are nice and all, but 100 is a little creepy. Especially when they may have only been dating for a week or so. Reminds me of the guy in high school I dated who gave me over 40 roses during the 25 days or so we dated. And then proceeded to stalk me for about four months after we broke up, including telling my physics teacher (who I really liked and respected) lies about what we had done together sexually.

I hope he isn't like that guy... Eek!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Blogging it out.

A good friend and delightful blogger took her thoughts private this week. Today, I want to write about some things here that people who occasionally peruse this blog might see, and I don't want them to. These two things got me thinking a little about public/private personas and blogging my thoughts on this here internet thing. You see, although this blog makes it seem otherwise, I can be a very private person at times. While I do not mind sharing the experiences I have regularly in a very public forum, I sometimes balk at sharing my innermost thoughts and dearest feelings here, lest it leave me vulnerable.

I have journaled most of my life--I have the volumes of filled in books back home to prove it. Sometimes I've been religious about recording my thoughts, story ideas, snippets of poetry, and listing ideas; other times I just write an entry now and then. I am always most centered in my life when I am writing regularly. Writing is, and always has been, a compulsion for me as much as an outlet and a desire. When I'm not writing, I feel lost and aimless. One of the best parts about living in Korea is that it seems to be affording me the time and inspiration to write regularly in this blog, in my private journals, and working on my publishable writing projects.

The internet has revolutionized literacy. The way the educated persons of my generation read and write is completely different than the generation before; and the generation after will be even more radically altered. The reader has asserted himself in the reader-writer-text (see Louise Rosenblatt's ideas) interaction in a more active way as readers become the writers in comments and pick and choose which parts of a web page they will read. And while, thanks to the internet, I can be a writer who other people occasionally read (which is awesome), I still feel a distinction between me and a "published" writer--which is what I'd like to be one of these days.

I first started blogging towards the end of college at livejournal after my career at the school newspaper died. It was pretty addictive. Then some horribly sad melodramatic things happened with my group of immediate friends that made me pull back from public journaling. I started a journal at some other site that I wish I could remember because that was a very intense period of my life and I can't find those journals anymore; though lord knows they are probably still out there in cyberspace somewhere. I went back to livejournal after awhile and kept it sporadically while teaching in the US because it allowed pretty cool privacy options (public, friends-only, and private). I have since made all of that journal private. I still occasionally post there for myself when I want to write in a blog, but don't want to share it with others. I will probably have a lengthy post there later today (because of the aforementioned things I want to write about, but find myself censoring).

I have blogged before about blogging. The act of meta-blogging is very helpful for me to keep in touch with the purpose of blogging, because this is by no means the only writing I am doing; it is simply the most public at this time.

I really try to reveal as much as I can here, because I know it makes the writing more interesting. I admire how open some people can be in their blogs about things I probably wouldn't be comfortable revealing, like Amanda on her developing relationship or Uncle Keith on aging. But it can be hard to bring myself to do that. I want to apologize to my readers for holding back where I feel I have to, but I will keep seeking to get braver in my writing as I have in my life.

I have a strange obsession with secrets. My stint as a crisis hotline counselor fed that obsession nicely, as does reading Post Secrets (I really want those books!). However, while I seek to know others' secrets--sharing my own, especially those about how much I care for people which can be quite a lot, remains a difficult challenge for me.

I've been trying much harder to live the philosophy of never letting opportunities go by for telling the people I love how much I care about them, but it's not easy for me. I have my dad's reserved and critical nature. It's protective. I have a tendency to genuinely like everyone I meet. Not that I don't see negative things in people, I do. I just really like people--even (perhaps especially) flawed ones. Even as a teacher in the U.S., I liked all my students, even the jerks.

I tend not to tell people this, though. They think I'm dopey. From some past bad experiences in the past, I really fear that the reactions of those same people to me tends to be pretty negative. I've been hurt by this before. The more you put yourself "out there"--through blogging, admitting you like people, trying new things--the more opportunities there are to be hurt. For example, living abroad and blogging as I do, I've discovered that now I can be hurt by silence, by a lack of response or communication when I put myself out there.

Maybe I have grown two emotional centers--two hearts. I vacillate between wearing my open, gushy, vulnerable heart on my sleeve--the one that usually guides this blog--and hiding behind the strong fortresses I've built around my secret heart--the one I hide even from myself sometimes--after many years of being disappointed and hurt too easily. But which one is true? Which one is better?

I don't know.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Students not doing homework!

One of the frustrating things for me as a teacher is when I work really hard to prepare an engaging and interesting lesson that is based on the work from the previous lesson and builds on the homework that I assigned last time, only to walk into a class where half or more of the class hasn't done the homework. Especially when the homework takes 5-15 minutes to complete.

This happened in two classes yesterday (including one class called "honors"). I made the students who didn't do their homework write letters of apology to me, to their classmates, and to their parents (although it's in English, so their parents will never really be able to read it) while the rest of class proceeded with the lesson I planned. Then they had to stay after to finish the 5 minute homework assignment. I thought this was fitting (although I wish I had a way to waste more of their time because they are wasting my time--maybe writing lines after class next time in addition to the quick homework assignment). I thought this was fine. They promised to do their work for next class. If they didn't, then I could go back to making English study painful for them, although I'd much rather have class be fun.

But I mentioned it to their Korean teachers... mostly just to commiserate; but then the students were lectured and disciplined in Korean by their other teachers, too. I don't really know how I feel about this. I know at Oedae I share students and often I have to lean on the Korean teachers because I cannot always communicate with the students (well, the students pretend not to understand me--which is BS most of the time and just an excuse for them to not listen to me) and I definitely cannot communicate with the parents, but I'm not used to other people punishing my students for actions in my classes unless it's extreme. I usually have the "I'll handle behavior problems myself" attitude (hence the letters and the lectures), and I've usually found students pretty responsive to this approach.

I think what bothered me is that one teacher said she will move a very bright, but unmotivated, student down a level because of this assignment and another teacher told me she hit the kids and that it was ok "because they are boys." I hope both of these things were jokes, but sometimes I'm not sure.

I like that Samson and the Korean teachers will back me up, but I'm worried about my relationships with the students. They need to see me as an authority figure and a real teacher or they'll keep blowing off my class. Maybe I should just assign more homework so they can't forget it--going with more assignments based on rote memorization and less creative thinking. Maybe I should just not mention any problems I'm having with a student to the other teachers unless I want them to do something about it.

Sigh. In some ways this job is easier because I've taught before, but in other ways it is more frustrating because I know I'm a much better teacher than this. I still don't know if it's the age of the students, the cultural differences, or the language barrier that is making me feel like they just aren't learning anything from me. A big part of it is that they don't care about my class.

And no amount of lecturing from another teacher is going to change that one.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Who me? Sporty?

I noticed something this morning--my body is used to working out hard each morning within a few hours of waking up now. It starts to crave the adrenaline rush and gets excited and energized about it now. This is new. Usually, I have to do some pretty serious convincing to get my body up and moving, even though I love taekwondo. I like it.

It's strange. I've never thought of myself as "sporty;" I've always been pretty uncoordinated and awkward. While I have always enjoyed outdoorsy stuff like hiking and sailing, my conception of myself has been that I am out of shape and artsy. But I find myself now thinking about losing weight, not because I want to look better or be more healthy or anything, but because it will be easier to throw high kicks in taekwondo and because I'll be able to move quicker. This is the first time losing weight has ever been to achieve some kind of physical goal.

I mean, sure, the other ideas are still there--I wanna be a sexy skinny gal just as much as the next woman with a long history of weight troubles. But this whole idea of thinking about myself as a sporty or athletic person is pretty cool. I'm starting, for the first time really, to see it as a possibility for myself. Like if I trained for awhile and am patient with myself, I could be in shape--not just thin, but strong, fast, and healthy. I could get my black belt and really earn it (though that still seems like a pretty remote possibility from where I sit at the moment).

It's just so interesting to me how much practicing a martial art is about reforming your mind as much as your body. My new motto seems to be "할수 있어요! I can do it!"

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Note to Self:

Try to remember not to judge others too quickly.

It could just be that they have one of those faces that always looks like they're disinterested/angry/whatever. She may not actually despise you. That competitive vibe you're getting may be entirely in your imagination. After all, she's pretty cool on paper. She's still adjusting, right?

Sorry for the cryptic post. I'm a little paranoid about developing female friendships and blogging. They are as bad a combo as soju and vodka/crans. So I hear secondhand... from her.

Fall colors and taxicab love?

I've been taking intermediate Korean at the YMCA on Saturdays since September. I probably should have taken the beginner class, but I'm not really one to back down from a challenge. Plus the intermediate teacher is really cute and sweet (and happens to be a good teacher, to boot). This Saturday, the instructors of all three levels decided to take us on a field trip to Palgongsan, a large mountain just outside of Daegu with a huge temple complex. The air was crisp, the lunches were packed, and the leaves were beautiful.

Unfortunately, my camera seems to have been injured terribly between Wednesday's Halloween party and Saturday. The LCD preview screen doesn't work anymore, which is disheartening. The camera also seems to have developed a finicky appetite in relation to batteries. So until I break down and buy myself a new one (which may take awhile since I just bought an expensive digital toy this week--the dictionary), I'm back to taking pictures like I used to with old film cameras, where you pray they turn out ok and don't really know until you develop (or in this case, download) them. I also ran out of batteries a couple times, but with many many thanks to Samantha's gift of a couple more, I was still able to take quite a few shots of the temple grounds.

The Reunification (Medicinal) Buddha, of impressive size (our tour guide said it is the largest in Korea). I bowed in front of him.


Donghwasa Temple, with Buddha reflected in the windows.


A man gets some water at one of the many fountains. The water is supposed to help purify you or something. It was pretty good after climbing all those steps to get to the top of the temple!


The grounds were amazing with the fall mountains in the background.


Fall colors are splendid, don't you think?


I took some more that came out ok, which is a miracle considering my poor, limping camera. If you want to see them, check out the album:


Palgongsan and Donghwasa Temple


Later on in the evening, I met up with Iosha, Vivian, and Samantha to go to Iosha's boyfriend's friend's bar (is that a mouthful or what?). They were nice guys, and I tried to speak with them in Korean as much as I could, which wasn't all that much. I had a really nice time, although I definitely drank too much soju and ate the spicy peppers in a stupid bar stunt moment... oh dear.

We went downtown to Old Skool, which is a pretty laid back spot for a hip hop place, and ran into Meg and Leo from the YMCA class. I learned a new card game that was silly and fun and then got very sleepy, so I went home.

My Korean must have improved, because I had the following conversation with the cab driver on the way home, entirely in Korean:

"Yulha subway station, please."

"Ok. Where are you from? Canada?"

"No, I'm American."

"Oh! I like USA. Do you have a boyfriend?"

"No, I don't have a boyfriend."

"Why no boyfriend?"

"I don't know why no boyfriend."

"You should go to Kyungbuk University. You meet boyfriend there."

I pretended not to understand that one.

"Do you like Korean men?"

"Yes, I like Korean men a little."

"Do you like American men?"

"I like American men a little."

"You should have a Korean boyfriend."

Sigh. Oh, Mr. Taxicab Driver, it's not quite that easy to find a quality person to date; especially not in a foreign country. And since when is my love life a taxi cab driver's business anyway? The fact that I answered his question indicates that I'm getting far too used to Korea. I even ask people how old they are within the first five minutes of meeting them now... Scary.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Oh, Costco...

Living abroad can be a little rough. You are used to being able to find certain goods and products with relative ease. Today, I had burritos again, but let me assure you that gathering all the right materials for the task was not easy. It involved hunting around a lot, flexibility, and several trips to Costco.

There is a Costco in Daegu that is not really accessible by subway. I don't know which bus to take, but since Gwen is now in America, I will probably have to figure that one out pretty quick. At Costco, you can get a lot of products from America that you can't find easily at E-mart and local stores. Like cheese (oh the delicious Pepper Jack on my burrito, I think I may love you!) and cereal bars and the good chocolate:

Five lbs of Hersheys, 32,990 won.


Why does this amuse me so much? Am I just far too easily entertained?

(No, I didn't buy it...)

Trouble with Costco is that, just like in the US, it's a bulk foods warehouse. So even though I wanted just one can of kidney beans, I now have 8. Will I go through 8 in a year? Probably. But it's weird buying them all at once. And just like in the US, it can be a money trap and a huge temptation for someone trying to lose weight. I just avoid the bakery section altogether! I spent almost $100 last time I went. Now, I got some awesome stuff that will help me eat well for awhile and enough cat litter to get Princess through winter, but really... that's a lot more than I normally spend on groceries for myself.

All in all, if you're looking for a taste of home, find a friend with a car and check it out--definitely worth it--but watch out for the Koreans in the food court. They're mean about snagging the raw onions for their pizza and hot dogs. Seriously.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Feeling better.

After many bowls of 순두부찌개 (tofu soup) and my own homemade more veggie-heavy version (I blogged about it before) for lunch today, I feel much better. Although my voice is still wonky and my nose is still stuffy, I believe the worst of it has passed and I feel about a million times better.

Which is good because tomorrow is the weekend! My Korean class is headed out to Palgongsan, a huge mountain near Daegu and accessible by local buses. This should be awesome for picture taking because the leaves around the mountains are absolutely breathtaking right now.

In sad news (for me) Gwen heads back to America on Saturday. I'll miss her, but she assures me, she'll be back. Unless the crazy radical communist candidate wins the upcoming presidential elections. So if you're a citizen of South Korea and read this blog, don't vote for him. Please.

I bought myself a fancy toy--an electronic dictionary. Except all the instructions are in Korean, so I'll have to use the dictionary to read the manual. Haha! No really, though, I'm super excited. Se Jin helped me buy it online for super cheap. It's the same model another Korean teacher's ex boyfriend bought her for 130,000 won more. You know what I'll be playing with all weekend... right?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

School Halloween Party

Wow. Yesterday was almost as trippy as Saturday night! It was Halloween at Oedae Academy, and as the ambassadors of American/Canadian culture, we foreign teachers at the English hakwon put on our little Halloween show. I wore my Pippi costume, Samantha donned her cute witchy outfit, and Gwen wore devil horns and high heels. Even the Korean teachers wore a little Halloween flair, although we couldn't get Samson to wear the pink fairy wings--too bad! We played a lot of games and had pizza and fried chicken and sugary drinks & snacks for the kids. Some of the kids wore costumes, although most didn't. There was tons of cuteness all around, though, which made me feel better, even though I'm still fighting off the last remains of my cold.

So here are some ridiculously cute children for your enjoyment:

Andrew in costume, with friend


Betty, the gangsta princess, and Helen, the faerie queen. Billy as Frankenstein/Devil looks on in the background.


My really strange 2nd/3rd graders being really strange.


And, of course, the games... oh the games:

Pass the lifesaver game with Danny and friend, as Dragon looks on


Linking arms and racing game


Kenny (in TKD uniform) and friend play the candy catching game


The find the gum in the cream without using your hands game


The quiet study quiz game because Diana teacher and Gwen teacher have headaches.


And, of course, my personal favorite, the toilet paper mummy game


Gwen and Samson volunteered for this game. So cute!


I have many, many more pictures of cuteness, but I think it may be of substantially less interest to those who don't teach these little hellions/cutie pies/strange alien beings.

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