Thursday, January 31, 2008

Intensives Over...

I feel rather drained and exhausted. Not that intensives were particularly difficult, but my schedule was all out of whack. Maybe now my life in Korea can go back to studying Korean, doing daily taekwondo, writing a bunch, and sharing the insanity with you in a more regular fashion...

A few days ago I met some friends (Laura and Yumiko) at the apartment of Mi Kyeong, a public school teacher originally from Seoul who knows Laura from English camp and Yumiko from graduate school. Mi Kyeong likes wine a lot, but most Koreans do not know or care how to appreciate fine wines. Hell, most red wine here is served chilled (yes, I did nearly shit bricks when I ordered a glass of cab and found it at the same temperature I usually would a chardonnay). Anyhow, she and Yumiko visited Jejudo a few weeks ago. Yumiko told her I would appreciate wine, so the three of us gathered at her apartment for delicious food.

Veggie wraps in Vietnamese rice paper... Yum!

Then we broke out some cheese and a few bottles of wine. It was awesome.

It's hard to get good cheese in Korea. Yes... that is sliced, processed cheese in the mix.

Finally, the pièce de résistance--a 2002 bordeaux blend from Chateau Talbot. Mi Kyeong said she got it in a duty free shop for about $100. My god was it amazing.

Can you see the legs? Maybe...

That's the best bottle of wine I've had in a good year and a half. And yes, we ate processed cheese with it. Reminded me of that scene in Sideways where he drinks the awesome bottle with greasy diner food from a plastic cup.

Great food. Amazing wine. Wonderful friends.

I remain, as ever, blessed in my life here. Cheers!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Biseulsan Ice Festival

Just south of Daegu is a mountain called Biseulsan, accessible by city bus 600, known for two things: flowers in the spring and an annual ice sculpture festival. Along with a couple friends I met through the YMCA class (Laura, Kirsty, and Amanda) I ventured out there Sunday in search of ice sculptures. Kirsty has a car, so we went in high style and drove out to the mountain's base.

Small temple bell and drum with peak in the background.

Although we never made it to the main ice sculpture festival area because there was a traffic jam (as the adorable English speaking police officer informed us) and we had to return for Kirsty's birthday party that evening, we did see some of the man made ice constructions.

They appeared to use hoses twine and the natural rocks/trees to create these awesome formations

I got to be a Keebler Snow Elf

We did attempt a bit of the hike, but we were sorely unprepared for the snow and rock scrambles. It was actually one of the more fun hikes I've tried in Korea because the scrambles reminded me of Old Rag back home, so I'm kind of sorry I didn't make it to the top. I'll have to get some better hiking shoes and go back out in the springtime.

Kirsty and Laura try to negotiate the rocks. Someone carved his (I think) name in the snow...

Every time we passed a group of Koreans, invariably men and women in their 50s and 60s, with all their special gear, they would scold us and tell us how unprepared we were. This included a woman with a baby strapped to her back on her way down.

The little wood bridge, just one of many challenging parts of the climb.

We turned back around a little over 1/4 of the way into the hike because of our lack of preparedness and downtown engagement. We stopped for tea and coffee at the little temple gift shop, which was fun because they gave us yummy roasted sweet potatoes. All in all, the weather was awesome, the company even better, the climb challenging, and the day enjoyable. A very successful trip.

And of course, I took lots of pictures that you should go look at:


Michael Jackson, 2

Today Jack told me he lives at Number 12, Grimmauld Place, but that he wants to live in a "plane house" (we learned about houseboats today) because he wants to travel the world.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Michael Jackson

"Hello, students. How are you today?"

"Fine, teacher."

A new student--a grinning boy with slender fingers and absurdly long nails--sits in my class. I take role with his Korean name and ask if he wants to take an English name. Standard new student procedure.

He giggles. "Jack!"

"Well, ok. Jack it is."

"Like Jack Sparrow."

"Do you like that movie?"

"Yes. I think very much I like."


Later, in the staff room. "Hey Gwen, that new boy--Jack--has really long fingernails."


"A new student. In intensive class, faculty room. He chose the name 'Jack' for Jack Sparrow."

"Do you mean Michael?"


"He's not new. He studied here a few years ago. He's Brenda's brother. His English name is Michael."

"Well... apparently he wants to change it to Jack."

"Jack Michaels?"

"Michael Jackson." Lots of giggling. "He looks like his sister."


We are discussing litter in class. "What is the man in the picture doing? Jack."

"Me? He is..." Jack pauses, struggling for the word. "Teacher... example: Harry Potter rides and fly."

Pause. "Do you mean 'broom'?"

"Ah yes! Broom. Thank you." Jack thinks again. "He is broom clean. Litter. Bad."

"Do you litter?"

"Yes." He giggles. "In my room litter. Trash throw. Mom not happy."

"What about on the ground?"

"I am thinking. Sometimes. Maybe. Trash on ground. Yes."

"Is that good, Jack?"

"No." Pause for thinking. Suddenly his face lights up. "Teacher, this project is perfect!"

"What project?"

"I will litter stop. People throw trash on ground, I stop." He smiles and nods, very satisfied.

"That sounds wonderful."

"I know. I am very kind."


In Brenda's class we are learning detailed physical descriptions.

"Students, who has long fingernails?"

Brenda shouts, "My brother!"

I can't help laughing a little. "That's true."

"I am very smart."

"And not a bit modest." She looks up the word.

"Ah teacher. I know. My brother, too. Our family is a little bit strange."

I nod and shake my head at the same time.


The next day:

"Hello, students. How are you today?"

"I am very happy!"

"Why is that, Jack?"

"Because plenty of sleep, I got."

"Oh, that is very good."

"But homework I am not doing." I give him the disapproving face, but he just giggles.

"How is your project going, Jack?"

"Today I am success. No trash on the ground. Success."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hitting the Slopes.

Saturday, Samantha and I agreed to be in front of our apartments at 6:20 a.m. for Sa Beom Nim's wife to pick us up for skiing with some of the other taekwondo students from An Il (안일), our gym. Maybe this sounds like a really bad idea, but actually I adore skiing so much, I woke up sans alarm at 4 like some over eager 7 year old on Christmas day.

Only a handful of kids from our studio went, but Sa Beom Nim got together with some of the other TKD studios in the area to hire a bus for the occasion. A kid from one of the other studios is one of Samantha's students at Oedae, so I was immediately greeted with a cheery, "Hello Diana Teacher!" Henney is quite a cute young man, and not a bit shy about using English outside of the academy. Whereas Eric (Sa Beom Nim's son) who is very good at English barely spoke five words to us all day.

But he's awfully cute, isn't he?

The resort we went to was small and most of the other people on the mountain were taekwondo or hapkido gyms, so Samantha and I were the only foreigners for most of the day (we saw a white guy late in the afternoon, but we're not sure he was with one of the gyms).

Funny thing about being the only white person skiing is that when people shout "Hello!" from the lifts, you know they are shouting at you. Which is just dandy. Unless you just fell on your 엉덩이 and feel like a moron. Sigh.

Sa Beom Nim tricked Samantha into trying the intermediate hill, but she was awesome at it, so it was great. He took plenty of photos of our stylish foreign skiing skills:

Aren't I spectacular?

I totally have my own magazine spread: Waeguks Ski... where I look pensively upon the dusty Korean slopes. Or something.

I was very proud of myself for trying my first "advanced" hill--though it was sort of more like halfway between intermediate and advanced.

Although staring at the task from the top of the hill made me a bit pensive... and skeptical.

In the end, I rocked it! One of the other TKD masters who rode the bus with us grabbed me and tried to give me lessons. Which was kind of sweet. But I was tired. Very tired.

So Samantha and I got lazy at the end... Ah laziness!

On the bus ride home, I was more conscious than I had been in the morning and so I tried to chat in Korean with one of Sa Beom Nim's friends. He was a funny guy. He called me an ajumma, the Korean word for auntie used to refer to older married women known for their unattractiveness.

Hilarious man. Really. I'm still laughing my 26--er, excuse me--28 year old behind off.

Just kidding. The day was completely fantastic. I'm so happy! Thanks to Sa Beom Nim's wife for the pictures.

Chinese David Beckham

The word for foreigner in Korean is 외국인, pronounced something like "waegukin." I hear this word a lot followed by shouts of "Hello!"

Sometimes it's followed by whatever English word(s) the person knows. "Beautiful!" "How are you?" "America!" "I love you!"

By far the best single word greetings I've gotten in Korea have been:

1) From one very shocked middle school boy who did a full stop when he saw me round the corner, jaw dropped to the floor, pointing and shouting,


Because we look so much alike.

2) From an adorable preschooler at the day care center outside my apartment who gave a big toothy grin and excited wave and loudly proclaimed,

"Ni hao ma!"

Because as a foreigner, Chinese is understood by me just as easily as English, right?

Living in a homogeneous foreign country has its moments of utter hilarity.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Taking a Break

My blog stats counter stopped working. So did my brain. Until these things resolve (maybe tomorrow afternoon if we're lucky), Going Places is on hiatus.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

Please forward complaints and inquiries to the manager.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Taekwondo Kiddies.

This month my schedule is a little crazy. I work at the time my TKD lesson normally meets, but I have this big chunk of free time Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I've been going just two times a week to the 6 p.m. class. The other students in my class range in age from kindergarten to upper elementary school (maybe one or two are middle school students, but I kind of doubt it). At first we were confused by each other, but after four practices I've come to accept the insanity. It's kind of fun to play with them.

The first day, I was a little nervous about changing so I did so too quickly and accidentally put my pants on backwards. One kind little il poom (like first level black belt for kids under 16--they have red and black striped belts) approached me and whispered "Pagi dwero. Pants backwards" and pointed. I thanked him and fixed them quickly, although I think I frightened the crap out of the boy I walked in on in the changing room. Oops.

I've been slightly less of an idiot since that first day. But only slightly.

It's a little hard not going everyday because the kids don't get used to me as quickly. And Sa Beom Nim yelled at the black belt boys who weren't really trying during kicking drills by comparing them to me who has only studied for five months and is a foreigner. I was both proud and embarrassed at the same time.

There's a boy who studies at Oedae (he's not my student) who is in my class. His English name is Mike and he's cute as can be (actually too cute to discipline properly sometimes), but definitely a bit of a troublemaker. He had taken to saying, "Excellent!" all the time at Oeadae, but in taekwondo class he wouldn't do it. But he gets in trouble with Sa Beom Nim constantly. It's pretty hilarious. He's got the same color belt as I do (purple).

There's also a new white belt--this tiny little girl who is adorable and utterly fascinated with me.

Se Beom Nim is awesome. I'm impressed by the controlled chaos that is TKD class. Everyone does different things at different times based on their TKD level and fitness level and he manages them all very well--not easy with crazy little ones.

I really should be doing some extra workouts to keep up my level, but I'm such a lazy bum when it's cold outside. Especially since I've been craving so much chocolate lately... Ah well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hospital Efficiency.

I've been sick for the last week or so with a persistent case of sinusitis (I assume). I kept hoping it would clear up on its own as I've heard mixed reviews of the medical treatment in Korea. Well, after waking up pretty much unable to breathe I decided I should high tail it to the doc's office and get some freaking antibiotics already to clear this baby up.

In Korea, they don't have doctor's offices, exactly. They have hospitals. What we think of as a hospital (with a 24 hour emergency room) they call big hospitals, so I'm told. It sounds weird to me to go to a hospital for a routine doc's visit, but at lunch today that's where I went. I was shocked.

The experience was awesome. The hospital was super clean, the staff friendly and helpful despite my limited Korean, and the doctor actually listened to my symptoms. He didn't explain as much as an American doc would (like about what he was prescribing and such), but I kind of knew to expect that. He kept checking to make sure I understood him when he spoke in Korean.

They sent me on my way to the pharmacy up the street. The medicine and doc visit together cost less than $10.

The medicine is a little scary since it's all mixed together broken up by breakfast, lunch, and dinner packets, rather than by medicine type, but again the pharmacist kept checking that I understood what I was supposed to do and was exceptionally friendly and helpful.

The only part of the whole Korean hospital experience I lacked was the requisite steroids shot in the butt. I'm torn between wondering what part of my ass is so offensive as to not warrant a happy shot and relieved that I didn't have to refuse it.

Best of all? I was done with both the doc visit and had the meds from the pharmacy in about 30 minutes. With no appointment.

Hey America! Listen up! What the heck is wrong with you and your broken health care system? Now it's time for my dinner pill pack--yummy!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sunday "Hiking"

Around 4:30 a.m. Sunday, we emerge from the noraebang into the late night mess of Daegu's city streets. A thought occurs to me.

"Crap a doodle. I'm climbing a mountain tomorrow."

Rick turns to me. "You are not climbing a mountain tomorrow."

"I so am. I promised Jiny. Besides, I'm not drunk. I'm just tired."

Rebecca says, "I believe in you. You're awesome. You're so climbing a mountain tomorrow."

"Yeah. Yeah, I am."

The next morning I wake up to the alarm at 11:30 a.m. The first thought through my head is I am not going to be one of those friends. You know, the ones who promise to do something and then ditch out at the last second. Rebecca is sleeping on my couch and cheers me on from her comatose state as I get ready for hiking. I hate myself.

I meet Se Jin at the station on time. It's wonderful to see her. I'm glad I came. "I'm so tired." Thank God!

"Me, too! If you want to just go hang around and relax somewhere instead that's fine with me..." Hint, hint.

"No, I want to go to the mountain!" Ok. It was worth a shot. Besides, mountain air is relaxing, right?

After the bus ride out to Donghwasa (which I visited previously when my old camera was on its last legs), I convinced Se Jin to ride the cable car to the top of the mountain. It's like hiking, but with less work. Not that it was terribly difficult to convince someone whose work schedule this month blows more than mine and has insomnia not to climb one of the hardest mountains in Daegu... but still. It was fun. A quick jaunt and we were at the top--with snow!

Too bad it doesn't look quite as beautiful in pictures--can you see the Reunification Buddha down below?

I had already wandered around the temple grounds a couple months ago, so I wasn't really all that excited to do so, but I had my faithful nampyeon.

The temple was decorated with these really colorful lanterns for the New Year.

What a difference a good camera makes.

Check out the wasp's nest under the giant Buddha's hand.

And I always love chatting with a good friend about all my plans for saving the world. Starting with working at an orphanage in Daegu after intensives finish. Turns out Se Jin wants to help--so maybe we will go together.

Isn't she awesome? And isn't this Buddha freaking enormous???

People also left little statues and prayer beads in the gaps of the stone wall surrounding the temple complex.

Tiny Buddhas

To see all of the pictures taken on my fabulous camera (there are some fantastic shots--ignore the fact that I look like crap), check out the album:

Palgongsan and Donghwasa Temple (Winter)

After the "hiking" trip, we grabbed dinner and coffee downtown.

"You know," Se Jin says to me after showing me pictures on her camera she took last week of her family, and I gushed over the cuteness of her nieces and nephews because it's easy to do. "My father asked me the English word for 'daughter' the other day."


"He told me, 'I have five daughters now.' He meant you." Se Jin has three older sisters.

I am close to tearing up--and I can't even explain why. "Tell him I am honored." I am--beyond words I can express to him in Korean. Or English for that matter.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Gotta love fashion sense in Korea. Mostly it involves 80s get ups and English words run through the randomizer. For example:

Mary. Self Portrait Nature Addictive I Wear My Sunglasses.

I don't teach this girl anymore, but she's really sweet and smart and says hello to me everyday (not "yellow" like the boys in her class who seem to think my name is now 노란색선생님). I wanted to steal her sweatshirt. She didn't understand why until Se Jin translated it for her. Then she started laughing. I love my job.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Weekendery. 다시 많이 바빴어요. (Very busy again.)

I hate to do one of those lists of things I did this weekend posts with little concern about format, audience, details, or insights, but I'm kind of too tired to put much more effort into it and I want to record some of these details before they escape my memories into the insanity of intensive classes in the upcoming week.

* I drank a crapload of coffee Friday night and stayed up until 4 a.m. cleaning my apartment. It's still not done.

* I decided to do the YMCA class after all. The cute teacher wasn't there, but he's coming back--assah! I got essentially a private tutoring session with the assistant teacher because no one else from intermediate showed up. It was actually pretty cool.

* I brought my cat carrier downtown before class for Kelly who's fostering some pets and was going to pick them up on Saturday. She got two! I want to visit them.

* I was introduced to the game Settlers of Catan on Saturday afternoon. It was fantastic. Such phrases as "I need your wood. What can I give you for it?" were frequently uttered.

* Sarah came home from Down Under and brought me yummy things. She met me for swing dancing class downtown. A friend of mine, Ben, who is involved with the Korean swing club is teaching it. He's lots of fun and so was the class. I'm definitely going back!

* Not enough guys showed up for swing dancing (this happens sometimes), so Sarah and I went downtown to meet Rebecca (yes, everyone has a blog here) for dinner at the Indian place I adore, Rama and Bavana. We ordered a bottle of wine. (This may or may not have led to some decisions about staying out later than I intended. I may or may not have ended up at a noraebang with Ben and some of the swing club members. And then the 24 hour Kimbap Chunguk for cheese ddokbokki before Rebecca and I headed home--at 5 a.m. Again. It may have been fantastic.)

* I met Se Jin at 1 p.m. Sunday for hiking around Palgongsan. I will post more about this tomorrow when I upload the pictures. It was lots of fun. Afterwards, we went downtown for dinner, coffee, and girltalk.

I will update more when I have the energy for wit and insight. Or at least cool pictures.

On a side note, my little brother is 25 as of Friday. That's insane. And awesome. Happy birthday, Brian!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ups & Downs...

I began this post a couple days ago, but thought you wouldn't really want to hear my whining in such a public forum. So I whined privately to a few friends and my mom who encouraged me to share it with you in the interest of helping you understand the emotional roller coaster that is an expat's life. Here's the post from before (you've already been warned it's kind of negative):

I've been really bipolar in my feelings about Korea lately. One minute I'm super excited about living here, am thrilled about the experiences I'm having and things I'm learning, and definitely want to do a second contract after visiting home for a bit in between, the next I'm really homesick for longevity, roots, continuity, and depth of connection with a place that I feel in Maryland.

There is some irony in my feelings. In Korea, my life is very exciting and I'm doing something very different, and I get a lot of stimulation. I love how much I smile here, how often I laugh, how quickly I meet really interesting and fun people, and how new and different life is all the time. I'm a lot bolder here because I know how much I'm gonna screw up and look stupid, and I've just accepted it. It's a part of life in an unfamiliar country. I want to keep these parts of me alive for the rest of my life no matter where I am or what I do in life.

However, sometimes everything feels shallow and cursory. I'm kind of a transient and most people treat me that way. I am so grateful to those who don't--like the Kwons, Sa Beom Nim, and my better friends here--because it helps establish normalcy in my chaotic life. I don't speak the language or understand the culture enough to help others, really. I feel somewhat useful to other expats when I do stuff like organize the book exchange, but that's also a necessity for me because I don't like going to bars as my only social activity. As much as it quickly can get stressful, I like feeling useful. I miss reaching kids who really needed me and talking to people in crisis on the hotline. I like feeling connected to the place where I live, which is hard to do in foreign countries in general and Korea in particular for reasons I don't entirely understand yet.

Maybe it's the winter lack of light getting to me or culture shock setting in, but I don't like being this dramatically torn every few minutes... It's not healthy.

I think, after talking to Amanda, I decided that I am having culture shock (it's about the right time for the downswing (around 3-6 months), but that I didn't think it was because it wasn't what I expected. I don't hate Korea, and I'm not depressed. But I am over-reacting to things that probably wouldn't get to me so much back home, like being single. Boy was I ever ANGRY last night. I mean, for the first time in my life I've figured out how awesome I am, and I was mad that the world has not yet presented an awesome guy who realizes this. In fact, most men seem pretty oblivious to my awesomeness and this struck me as outrageously unfair and cruel. I was angrier than I've been since my senior year of high school.

That's not a normal reaction.

Sure, back home I'd be bummed I don't have someone special once in awhile, but lacking the depth of connection here makes the lack of romance just that much harder to take. And I realized how stupid I was to be angry about something like this. But it didn't make me less angry.

It's ok, though. I think I'm allowed to be irrationally angry at all men for their failure to notice my awesome. I'm allowed to cry in a church on Christmas day. Or dance in the streets like a crazy woman to the Timbaland that only I can hear after being stared at like I'm already doing it anyhow. Sometimes life abroad is tough and you gotta be a tough broad to take it. Just as long as it doesn't become my defining characteristic, letting go like that can feel great now and then.

I soothed myself by doing what I always do when I get down, I made a five year plan. And this one's the most fantastic one yet! If you know me well, then you know by now it's likely to change dramatically in the next few months so I won't post the details here just yet, but it feels really good to have a direction for the next few years. It involves becoming proficient-to-fluent in three languages, living on four different continents for various lengths of time, writing a ton, helping to save the world, and joining the Peace Corps!

I love studying Korean (as a friend joked, perhaps the lack of irregular verbs soothes me), but I've decided that January and February are too busy (and I'm a little too broke) for Korean class, so I'm just going to get a tutor and continue my language exchanges and start up at the YMCA again in March. (I still have the info though, if you want it. And I'm always willing to show a newbie how to get around downtown. Like I mentioned above, I enjoy helping others.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

한국어 and Popularity?

나는 생각하는 한국어 말하기 힘들어요. 하지만 나는 할 수 있어요.

I think speaking Korean is very exhausting. But I can do it.

I'm trying to arrange a way to meet Seong Mi again for language practice by texting in Korean, but it's difficult because I've never had so many social appointments in a single weekend to work around before.

When did I get "popular"?

I mean, I'm not "cool" and thankfully, I'll never be cool, but all of a sudden Diana's time is in huge demand. How on earth did this happen?

And yet, sadly, at least to my knowledge, none of these appointments (약속 yaksok or "promises" in Korean) are romantic in nature. I don't think I'd have time to date even if any suitable prospects presented themselves at the moment, which doesn't seem like it's gonna happen anytime soon.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


I was going to do a real post about my mood which is variable of late, but instead I will offer you cute:

We saw this guy when we went out for lunch to say goodbye to Jenny at work (she's going to study abroad in Australia or the Philippines). He's one of my former students' puppies.

Jenny and puppy.

Then he tried to eat my coat.

See... isn't that better than my whining AGAIN?

Monday, January 7, 2008

By this time...

My good friends from high school, Micah and Jennifer, should be married. To each other. All of my high school buddies are in St. Bart's. I'm thrilled and jealous as hell all at the same time (for both the lack of love and of St. Bart's). Though I don't believe Micah and Jen read my blog, I send them warm, happy, fuzzy wishes.

And another friend got engaged this weekend. Facebook told me so. I'm so happy for her, but it felt like a weird violation of etiquette to find out in such a manner.

Facebook is a funny thing, really... almost as funny as marriage. Really, though, marriage is a lot funnier. In Korean I turned 28 this week (I thought it went by lunar new years, but apparently, it goes by calendar years). That sounds a lot older than I was at this time last year. I remember last year being the first year where I wouldn't say "wow they're so young" if I heard people of my age were marrying. Twenty eight is old enough not to be "so young" when having babies. That's a terrifying thought.

How many more people will get married in the next five years? How many more times will I have to think about the things I'm really not interested in thinking about right now? Why are friends' weddings so bittersweet for the perpetually single?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Weekend Shenanigans

Actually, that title is deceptive as this weekend was rather laid back. I hung around Daegu with friends. Some cool stuff happened, like I spoke in Korean for about four hours on Saturday with Seong Mi and then played interpreter for Jin-oo at the expat bars in the evening, so my Korean's improved a lot. I had a lovely dinner with William at an American Chinese restaurant and good times with the girls (aka Rebecca, Kelly, and Tracy) around downtown, although my illness prevented much "revelries."

Sunday morning Rebecca, who was my guest of honor this weekend from Busan (she's kind of a big deal, you know...), and I headed down to meet people for brunch and a book exchange. The book exchange at Angel-in-us was quite popular and satisfied my literary nerd bug at the moment. I even told people about my favorite proof! Yes, yes. I am a big dork.

There were oh so many books. We actually had to leave some behind.

Laura and I, looking quite lovely and intellectually satisfied.

It was so good, in fact, that people seem interested in it becoming a semi-regular event (monthly or every couple months), which sounds pretty awesome. I guess I'm a planner for things now. Sometimes Korea really is like being back in college... but whatever. I got some new materials I'm super excited to read after I finish my new book club read, Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder.

After the meeting, Rebecca, Kelly, and I hung out in a park because the weather was randomly awesome when we noticed all these fire engines zipping through the downtown crowds, despite the high probability that they would hit someone. Kelly wanted to follow them, Rebecca was hungry, and I really wanted to see Korean firemen, so off we went towards the restaurants and the sirens.

Turned out to be a pretty big deal. Scary.

And Korean firemen look disappointingly like firemen in the U.S.

We ran from the disgusting, smoke-filled street to Italy Italy for tasty food and a bottle of wine. I was very giddy on the ride home and now I'm a little sleepy. But my apartment is full of good books, my stomach is full of good food, and my life is full of good friends. It was a fine couple of days overall.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Intensives; PSA for expats; Bad news

Gwen came home from her two month long sojourn to America this weekend. Yay! I had missed her lots--I think everyone did because the mood at Oedae seems to have lifted substantially despite the beginning of intensive classes.

The school year just ended, so the little ones are "free" until sometime in late February or early March. You see, in Korea, when students have a break from school, they don't actually stop studying. They fill the time with extra classes at their private academies (hakwons). The school where I teach, for example, offers extended daily classes from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in addition to the regular afternoon classes. So I am now teaching in the mornings and the evenings. It's a long day. I'm teaching three morning classes--right when I should be doing taekwondo.

My goal was to figure out how to do at least three days a week at my gym, but it looks like Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. (with a real class of other children!) are going to be the only times I can go, and that's only because Gwen took my 6:55 p.m. class for this month. I plan to use this time then to work on cardiovascular conditioning by introducing running three days a week to compensate for my lack of exercise. If I can't hack it in the cold, I'll buck up and join the local gym for a month. Who knows what interesting experiences I could have at the Korean gym? Maybe I'll join it just for S&Gs... and your entertainment, of course, blog reader.

Right now my schedule for work kind of sucks (there are people with worse schedules, I know, but I'm not a huge fan of mine)--especially on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. However, I will theoretically get overtime pay, and I'm getting all teacher-dork excited about the classes I have for intensives. The kids are cool and I know from before that seeing students everyday instead of a few times a week really makes a class a more productive learning environment.

In other news, despite fighting a cold and stressing over some unfinished projects and too much to do, I'm organizing an English book exchange downtown on Sunday. So if you want to participate, shoot me an e-mail and I'll let you know the details. A lot of people seem very interested so maybe this will become a regular thing. That could be cool.

And then... I got some bad news from home last night. Dad's health seems on the downward spiral, but at least he has the right diagnosis now. Sarah had a health scare and wound up in the emergency room. She seems to be alright now, but they're running some outpatient tests. I miss my little sister. I can't even write about this right now or I'll have to think about it again.

Now to prep for the weekend and finish all the unfinished tasks and chores from the last few oh-so-busy weeks.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's in Seoul (Days Two and Three--Skiing and Fish)

What is it about vacation that makes you sleep so much better, even though the bed is not what you're used to and therefore uncomfortable? I don't know, but both Se Jin and I slept for a ridiculously long time and felt much better for Sunday--the day for skiing!

It's been a year since I'd gone, but I'm in much better shape than I've ever been (thanks taekwondo!) so even with the crappy rental boots, I fell right back in feeling great on the slopes. When we got there, Se Jin and I took off for the bunny slopes because she's only been a few times before and was really nervous while her brother-in-law and Seong Jin headed for the easier full green trails. Soon Keum watched her daughter by the snack bar and watched our stuff because she's awesome like that. I was unwilling to take my camera out on the slopes because I didn't trust my own skills, but I did have a blast. Se Jin took her tiny one out later, so maybe I'll have some pics from that to share when she sends them to me.

Around 4 or 4:30 the slopes shut down for a couple hours while they tidied up the snow for night skiing. At this point, Se Jin's second oldest sister who lives in Daegu (the one whose house I dined at in October) and her family drove out to meet us at the ski resort.

Se Jin with youngest niece Hennie, who thinks my name is "Hello!"

Seong Jin was really excited because their son, Jin-oo, is the same age as he is.
Age in Korea is Very Important. I'm not sure how much I've blogged about this, but when you meet a Korean person, it's very likely the first question they will ask you is how old you are. This is because everything about the deferential levels in speech is based on your age in relationship to the person you are addressing. If they are older, you must give polite/formal endings; if they are younger you can "talk down" to them.

Because of the intense stratification based on age, you are technically only allowed to be 친구s (chingus, or friends) with someone born the same lunar year as you (since lunar year is how they determine age). I have to explain this to my students a lot when I refer to Se Jin as my friend since she is four years my senior. In Korean, I call her 세진언니, which means Se Jin, older sister. At work, I just call her Jiny Teacher. Oh cultural mixing how strange you are!

Anyhow, this means that Seong Jin and Jin-oo being the same age is even more exciting for them.

Jin-oo and Seong Jin raising heck and being boys.

After a snack of spicy ddokboki and ice cream (which is a winter food in Korea... you only think I'm kidding here...), we went back out for some night skiing. The slopes were almost completely empty, which was awesome. I ended up heading out for the blues with the brother-in-law (Soon Keum joked that we swapped husbands) while Se Jin took her two trouble-making nephews over to the greens. I had a fantastic time, though I fell twice when I hit icy patches.

Se Jin's brother-in-law asked me if my father taught me to ski. I said no. I learned to ski with my last boyfriend. Sometimes it's hard to think about the sport without realizing how my learning it is so intermixed with my good memories of our time together. Just like my love of red wine and good food. But unlike waiting six years to try martial arts for myself because I associated it with my first serious boyfriend, I'm keeping the the things I've gained from the two years I spent with him that I enjoyed and making them my own. Just because the growth happened in a relationship that didn't work out doesn't mean I can't own it and love it. Is this maturity or naivety?

The next day Se Jin and I met fellow blogger Amanda in person for the first time (she lives about two or three subway stops from Soon Keum's family). She's just as awesome as I thought she'd be. We had a fantastic conversation about studying Korean and relationships and whatnot. Her boyfriend, aptly monikered Good Man in her blog, joined us later that afternoon, still a bit drunk from his work party. He's very, very shy.

Se Jin was feeling a bit stomach buggy, so she went home and Amanda took me to the Doctor Fish place where fish eat your feet.

At first, I was really excited

But, boy did it feel weird.

If you have the opportunity to try it, do so. It felt kind of like your feet were asleep without actually being asleep. Not easy to describe in words.

Amanda and I with fish on our feet

We also went to a yummy pasta place for dinner and subjected poor Good Man to hours of girl talk. He was quite a good sport about the whole thing. I think he likes seeing Amanda happy, which makes me approve of him (not that my approval is necessary, but I do like to grant it when I see fit).

Afterwards, Se Jin and everyone else happened to be out at E-mart, so they picked me up and we went home to watch the New Year come in from the comfort of the warm living room. The children and I read books quietly while the Seoul Ballet performed The Nutcracker Suite on tv. And then they rang the bell and 14 hours earlier than everyone else I usually spend the holiday with did, I welcomed 2008. And then slept for 12 hours. Apparently, fish wear you out!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's in Seoul (Day One--Korean Family Love and Snow)

Upon reflection, I feel like Korea has managed to flip my holidays all around backwards. Christmas was my big party with friends time. New Year's was a quiet family celebration. It was rather odd to have them reversed, but I feel exceptionally lucky that I still got both. However, given how much happened in the last few days, I'm needing to split this up into several posts. To see the whole photo set, go here:

New Year's in Seoul, Gunpo, and Anyang

Saturday morning Se Jin and I managed to meet for the 9:30 am bus (no easy feat for us when we were at work until 10:30 the night before and I for one hadn't packed or cleaned) to Suwon, a city just south of Seoul proper. We slept the whole way. The Suwon express terminal is further from the subway than the train station so we had to navigate the Seoul bus system. I was glad Se Jin knew where she was going.

Her eldest sister, Soon Keum, and the rest of my Korean family I hadn't seen since Chuseok greeted us at the Gunpo subway station. We went to a delicious tofu restaurant and feasted (although, as with other restaurant selections this weekend, I felt like I was a bit of an inconvenience being vegetarian, but I tried to tell them that anywhere they want is ok and I'll find something to eat). Then back to the house to relax after our trip. Much silly playing with children ensued, which was exactly what I needed at the time.

Soon Keum's husband, son Seong Jin, and daughter whose name I cannot remember but is the cutest child ever and tried to teach me to read her Korean children's books.

Se Jin's brother-in-law is the most loving, affectionate father I've ever met in person. Which is impressive because all of the males in her family are doting on the children. Actually, the open affection that adult men show to children here kind of shocked me a little because I hadn't realized how much it was missing from American culture. There is a commercial for the KTX here that makes me tear up a bit--a father goes to take a picture of his sleeping daughter and then stops to adjust the bow in her hair a little and smiles in a heartbreakingly beautiful manner... If I weren't too lazy, I'd hunt it down on Youtube. Don't get me wrong, Korean family dynamics can be some of the most obnoxiously dichotomized gender roles I've encountered, to the point that some men don't even live with their families--merely send home a paycheck, but not the Kwons.

See what I mean? Another brother-in-law with niece Hennie at the ski resort (more on that part of the weekend to come)

One highly unexpected thing I've learned about myself in Korea and was reminded of in spending the weekend with my surrogate family is that I figured out that I do want to get married and have kids if I can. It's shocking for me to openly admit something like that (coming from the cynical, overly-intellectual, career-focused achievers that I do), but I think it's one reason why I've gotten so picky about love lately. It's like if he's not someone I could see myself with in that way, why waste my time? Maybe when other women figure this out they get less selective because they are looking for a sperm-donor-as-mate, but I'm looking for something more.

Soon Keum with daughter

In the meantime, I'm enjoying my adventures, projects, and friends. Just if I do find someone worthy when I'm still young enough for it to make sense to do so, I know now that I'd want to have a family with them. Enough digression and terrifying my friends and family with the thought of me one day reproducing...

In the evening, we bundled back in the car and drove to the center of downtown--a street called Cheongyecheon-no which has been converted into a park with lots and lots of lights and an artificial stream. It seems very popular with Koreans. It was strange, and beautiful in a kind of horrible way, and very very cold.

Neon Asphyxiation

I noticed that even though I was still the only foreigner around most of the time, in Seoul I get stared at less than in Daegu. I don't really know why that is, but it seemed funny because I was hanging out with a Korean family and small children were calling me "이모" (imo, meaning mother's sister, or auntie) and blathering on at me in Korean that I only understood some of, but acted like I knew what they were saying.

I'm beginning to appreciate some part of what it might be like for my black sister in our all-white family... in a strange, new way.

On the way home from downtown, it started snowing. It was so beautiful, I texted many people back in Daegu my newly learned phrase: 서울에서 눈이 와요. 많이 예빠요. In Seoul, the snow comes. It's very beautiful. Nothing quite like making friends jealous, eh? Except I think I spelled one of the words wrong and that the word I used for "beautiful" applies mostly to women, not scenery. Oh well. I'm often an idiot in Korean. I'm told it's charming and cute. I suspect people are just being polite.

To be continued...

Squeezing in a Post for the New Year...

I just got home to a freezing cold house and mildly irritated kitty. But after cuddles and food and turning the heat on, she seems to be ready to forgive me soon. I had a fantastic time in Seoul, but I have too many things to do right now to give full attention that such a post merits. Instead, I will post some general resolutions/reflections for 2008 that I feel like sharing before they vanish into the forgotten recesses of my brain. Plus posting makes me more accountable.

Health: Resume taekwondo study and efforts for healthy eating. Consider running.
Money: Spend only on those things that really matter to you. Save for those things worth saving for.
Writing: Keep at it. Send it out--really.
Academia: Do what is necessary to finish your Master's. Don't keep it hanging over your head anymore.
Volunteering: Just do it.
Spiritual: Find your wonder again.
Intellectual: Read more and study Korean (or something else that strikes your fancy).
Love: Continue to refuse to settle while remaining open to possibility.
Friendships/Family: Remember that whole vow you made about not letting too much time pass between times where you let all the people you love in the world know how much you love them. (Speaking of which, did I tell you I love you today? I do!)

The reality is that 2007 has been a year of rather dramatic changes for me, of pursuing long-held goals. The ongoing progress I've made (which I've recorded lots about here) makes New Year's resolutions kind of redundant. I'm living every day now (ok, ALMOST every day) like one for improving and searching and resolving to be better. The difference is that putting these plans into action has become a habit. I'm still not where I'd like to be for any of these areas of my life... but I'm making progress in all of them. And I know I'll get there one day if I just keep at it.

I think maybe it's the knowing they are possible to achieve them that makes such a huge difference in the process of attaining goals. Without such confidence, we are afraid to try.


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