Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I could have danced all night...

(I never finished this post, but I like it...)

As you may have noticed, I've been swing dancing pretty regularly for about a month and a half now--taking lindy hop lessons and then social dancing for a few hours a week. Last weekend, the party in Busan was the longest and most I've ever swing danced in my life--the party was from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m. and I danced for most of it. I was one of the newest converts there (some guys I danced with said they'd only been going 6 months, but most were upwards of 3 or more years), and though I was all gussied up in a pretty dress with my hair done all lovely and whatnot, certain demons would not be silenced that made it a little hard for me to work up courage to ask people to dance (which I'd have to do because foreign women are REALLY INTIMIDATING... apparently...). Even more than my neophyte status.

I have a long and highly emotional relationship with dancing--any kind of dancing really--that is inextricably entwined with my body image. Like Dante's lovers Francesca and Paulo spinning in their whirlwind in the Inferno for all eternity, I cannot dance without it affecting my body image (or vice versa) in both beautiful and terrible ways.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Un-Blog.

I started this blog about a year ago. It's become pretty useful as a writing tool for me, but lately I've been doing other writing exercises, so sometimes this is updated less frequently. I'm sorry if you're a regular/semi-regular reader. Please don't leave, as I intend to continue writing here, just slightly less regularly for a bit. Such is the ebb and flow of life conveyed via this medium.

Stuff's been happening. Easter Sunday, I turned 27 (American age). I celebrated with some good friends I've made here in Korea, which was wonderful. I got my red belt last week. It's the last one before the black belt test, so I'm learning the final form. Lately taekwondo workouts are exhausting in a lovely way. I'm making a concerted effort once again to lose weight, so I'm cooking a lot again (yay vegetables). I've become horrifically addicted to swing dance and chatting a lot in Korean at the club where I dance. I'm doing massive amounts of spring cleaning in my apartment (last night I took apart my bed to clean under it and around it and then re-assembled it), so it's at that messy-cleaning-process phase, which is annoying but tolerable. I have some honors classes and brand-new-to-English classes I adore right now. Princess has been enjoying the warmer weather.

All in all, things are good. Life is rather hum-drum for me at the moment. As usual, though, adventures are planned for the near future...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Haeinsa and Tripitaka Koreana

On Sunday, Kelly and I were antsy for some relief from the daily Daegu grind, so we decided to visit a temple to welcome the new spring weather and have some peaceful scenery out in the countryside. Since Kelly's apartment is a hop, skip, and jump from the Seobu bus terminal which has the bus to Haeinsa (Temple of Reflection on a Smooth Sea--ironically landlocked, of course) on Gaya Mountain, that's where we decided to go. It was very beautiful, and you should definitely go look at all the pictures in the album:

Haeinsa

Some highlights from the trip: Turns out Haeinsa was a good choice for stress relief because it had one of those mazes for walking meditations. I actually had a whole spiritual revelation thingy when I walked it (not a major one, but enough that I feel much more centered now than I did last week). What a nice birthday treat!

Meditations in a Maze

I'd been eager to visit Haeinsa for some time because it has one of the cooler sounding cultural treasures of Korea, the 80,000 Tripitaka Koreana (in Korean, 고려 팔만 대장경). It's basically a Buddhist text that was carved on 80,000+ wood blocks in the 13th century. The planning and execution of this artwork took about 20 years, which is not that long when you imagine that if this thing was ever actually printed out and bound, it would be insanely long.

The interesting thing is that you can't actually touch the blocks, since they are in these preservation rooms. To even see them, you had to peek between the wood slats in the buildings, and sometimes chicken wire and other measures to prevent the curious from touching the blocks. It made good photography quite challenging, but I managed to catch a few good shots of the Tripitaka.

Kelly checks out the storage room for the wood blocks

Filed, stored, sorted Tripitaka blocks

There were several colorful hermitages near the temple. We went to one that looked like the painting had been recently restored/retouched because it had some of the most vivid colors of any of the various Korean cultural sites I've visited.

Dragon detail at Hong Je-An (a hermitage)

There's also a lot of sculptures and beautiful mountain streams and ponds surrounding the temple grounds that Kelly and I enjoyed photographing. The weather was so amazing that we started to get a little giddy towards the end. So of course, when we saw the super cool alien construction, we had a really strong urge to mess it up by rolling the balanced sphere off the top of the sculpture.

Really Cool Alien Construction

However, we didn't really want to get deported. At least, not today.

Afterwards, we were giddy, happy, and hungry. We went downtown to find a new restaurant and happened upon Piano, a kind of Italian inspired place. The decor was awesome, and we had the best valued in a restaurant bottle of wine I've had in Korea (meaning it tasted way better than the 23,000 won we paid for it), but the food was kinda mediocre. I don't know that I'd go back again, except that the waitstaff was friendly and attractive.

Then I finally found out where my makeup bag disappeared to about a month ago--apparently I left it in my friend Lenny's car, but I hadn't seen/heard from Lenny in a month. Awesome! I have my good makeup back! I'm so happy.

What's in a name?

A few weeks ago, Se Jin's father decided he would give me a Korean name. Names are really important here, but in a totally different way than in western countries. I've learned some interesting things about names that I'll share with you (I can't verify the accuracy of all of this, but most of it I've read/heard from multiple sources).

Korean names are (almost) always three syllables, the first being the family name and the next two being given names. There aren't many family names really, the most common being 김 (Kim), 이 (Lee) and 박 (Park), but you'll see the same names over and over again. When women marry, they keep their fathers' family names, though the children will take their husbands' names. Koreans with the same family name cannot wed, even if they are not related (although there was one year where they lifted this ban in the 70s or 80s and apparently craploads of forbidden lovers got married so they had to revoke it the next year).

You usually don't call someone by their given name unless they are younger than you or very close somehow and even then there are usually titles attached. For example, in Korean I call Se Jin "세진언니" which means "Se Jin Older Sister." In English, I refer to her as Jiny. It's very complicated.

Legal variances over the years have governed the giving of Korean names with and without hanja characters (the Korean adapted Chinese characters) associated with them (at times it's been illegal to name children without hanja, other years have been more liberal). The Kwons are a rather academic lot (her father was a principal for many years and their house has more books in hanja than I've seen in my entire life), so I kind of wanted a name with hanja characters associated.

Yesterday, Se Jin gave me three choices for my name her father came up with. Her family name, Kwon, was in all three. I chose the one that sounded a bit like my name in English, but it also sounded nicest in Korean and has a cool meaning.

Korean: 권 다 인

Hanja: 權 多 仁

Hanja conversion: 권세권 많을다 어질인

English "transliteration": Kwon Da In

"Da" here means "a lot" or (if we're being poetic about these things) "plentiful" and "In" means "wisdom."

Now I need to practice writing my name's hanja. Kwon is especially tricky, so it'll take some time. I've been adopted. Who knew?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Korean, IRS, Dork, Travels

In my sick haze on Tuesday morning, I deleted Sa Beom Nim's phone number from my handphone. So when I got an unidentified call to my handphone, and I called back (while on the subway mind you), I was only a little surprised when a man answered in Korean (translations are approximate--my Korean was quite broken and terrible and I'm not even going to try to recreate the actual Korean dialogue here).

"Hello."

"Hello?"

"Diana? This is Sa Beom Nim."

"Oh! Hello."

"How is your cold?"

"It's ok now."

"Good. Tomorrow we can't have taekwondo."

"Really? Why?"

"I have a seminar."

"Oh. Ok."

"Please tell Samantha. And we can have taekwondo on Saturday. What time would you like to have it?"

Here's where I started to get flustered because I can't figure out how to say, I need to ask Samantha about the time. "Ok. Samantha together talking. Saturday time--I don't know. Tomorrow talking. I need to talk to Samantha."

"No, not tomorrow. Friday."

"Oh, oh. Yes, ok. Friday. I'm sorry." I notice all the other Koreans on the subway are staring at me at this point. Because I'm speaking loud, bad, broken Korean and turning bright red.

"It's ok. I will see you Friday."

"Yeah. Have a good night."

"Go well."

"You, too!"

***

Since TKD was cancelled this morning, I had a few hours to gather all my documents together and submit my taxes for 2007. I'm getting a nice big fat return. This happens when they tax you as if you're working for the whole year and then you psych them out and only work half (at least in your home country). I love technology. I can file taxes from halfway around the globe in just a few hours. That's amazing.

***

Last night I let my inner dork hang out and went out to play Dungeons and Dragons after work. I really like the dynamic of the group. It's very laid back and silly, but most of the people have enough experience role playing that we're not constantly having to look stuff up in the rule book so play runs very smoothly. Unfortunately, it's also located on the other side of the city, so the cab fare is gonna add up quickly. I'd really like to continue playing, but I'll have to decide if the expense is worth it. It might be as I've been less and less interested in adventuring downtown since I've begun swing dancing. I still like walking around during the day and looking at all the cool, fun stuff to buy and hanging out in coffee shops and such, but the actual evening barhopping/clubbing just isn't that enjoyable and can get to be expensive quickly if you're not careful!

***

I'm going to Japan in June for three days! I'm so unbelievably excited... you should have seen the giddiness that was me yesterday when it was confirmed.

And I've now inspired both of my siblings to apply for their passports. Sarah just got hers, and Brian filled out his form but will probably wait until pay day to send it in ('cause of the fee). I'm so pleased.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Gatbawi and Random Weekend

As usual, I had an amazing weekend (I think the universal theme of my fabulous weekends is that I'm involved--isn't my modesty impressive?). I know the posts where I list what I did and where I went aren't the most interesting, but this one will include pictures and commentary, so it should be at least tolerable, so I highly encourage you to continue reading.

I had the last class of the winter vacation session at the YMCA on Saturday morning. I've decided that I am definitely going to try the advanced conversation class next semester, so I really need to crack the books on my Korean studies for the next couple weeks. I'm sure it'll be over my head at first, but I've done that before. I just hope I don't piss off the teacher and other students too much initially.

After that, I had plans to meet Song, the newest teacher at Oedae, for lunch and a movie downtown, but we kept missing each other, and I didn't have her cellphone number, so I gave up. It turned out ok because I had a lovely lunch with Laura and Kirsty. After that, I headed to Kyobo to chill and read before the big 1940s themed swing party downtown, but I kept running into people I knew, including one of Se Jin's sisters with her kids--and Se Jin was about to join her!

Yes, I really did my hair in five minutes while sitting in a Starbucks in Kyobo...


As you could probably infer from my flirtations entry yesterday, the swing party was amazing. One day I'll pause long enough from dancing myself to take pictures... One day.

The next day I went to church with Se Jin and her family and then we went hiking to Gatbawi, a famous Buddhist statue (with a hat!) on the top of a mountain. The hike is the hardest I've done in Korea. Apparently there was another path to the top that involved stairs (we took it on the way down) but the climb up we took was all rock scrambling straight up. Some places even had ropes set up for our use because it was a little too difficult without assistance.

Se Jin, being her goofy self.


Another wasp's nest on a temple out near Palgongsan. Isn't my camera awesome?


Anyhow, the top of the mountain with the actual statue was beyond excessively crowded. So many people were praying for health and other things. It was overwhelming and smelled like incense, though the view was spectacular.

See? I told you he has a hat!!!


Take a gander at the whole album to get a sense of how awesome the weather was and to see more pictures of my adorable Korean niece and nephew:

Gatbawi and Random Weekend


After hiking, we had dinner and coffee downtown. My legs felt like they were going to fall off of my body at this point, but I still met Sarah and Kelly for wine and cheese, which would have been the perfect ending to a beautiful weekend if I hadn't been in a kind of bitchy mood for no reason whatsoever.

I need to chill out--stress is getting to me. I was sick today because of all the stress. So a-templing this weekend I will go. It will be fantastic, I'm sure.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Flirtations.

Apparently, I now understand enough Korean to know when my taxicab driver is lecturing me about how I'll never have children because I am a full 28 (Korean age) years old and have neither boyfriend nor husband. Thanks, Mr. Taxicab man for not only driving like an ass but making me feel like shit.

I went in search of the word for "picky" in Korean so that when taxicab drivers ask me (as they inevitably do), "왜 남자 친구 없어요? Why no boyfriend?" I can tell them that I'm just waiting on Mr. Better-Than-Current-Options to start pumping out the babies (which I clearly can't have after another year or two of singledom, so I better move quick, right?). Gwen led me to "눈 높이" which translates to "high eyes." It's my new favorite expression in Korean.

***

The rounds of wedding invitations are pouring in. It must be spring. Ah... wedding invitations. I have such a love/hate relationship with them. So beautiful and so ugly at the same time.

And somehow this weekend I got jointly appointed to a Korean gal's bachelorette party committee (she's a lovely swing dancer marrying a western guy who also swings, and I will be joining his D&D group this week). How exactly does one go about hiring a male stripper in Korea? Do I even want to see male strippers in Korea? I mean, in America I find them kind of repugnant... and usually gay. How does this happen to me?

That said, I'm beyond thrilled for James and Katie who will marry in April and Kirsty and Gil who will marry in August. I intend to celebrate both unions quite thoroughly.

***

Despite the ongoing jokes about my obsession with attractive Korean boys amongst my foreign friends here, I've really only like-liked one. That was up until this weekend. One of the fellows I thought was cute from the Busan swing club made it out to Daegu for the swing party here on Saturday. And even seeing Se Hyun (which I did both on Saturday AND Sunday) didn't deter me from developing feelings for the guy Leah and I referred to as "Smiley" until we learned his "real" nickname. Although Smiley seems more fitting and it will at this time be my blog name for him.

I got a little tipsy on soju, which seemed to make me think I was much better at speaking Korean than I really am, because I started walking around and plopping myself down with all the other swing club people to chat. It was lots of fun, but I'm such a goofball. I ended up telling him I thought he was handsome in Korean. After that he asked me to dance a bunch of times and was rather flirty back. I noticed I really liked him because I got so nervous dancing with him, I started sucking. I think I elbowed him in the face once, but we both laughed about it.

I got a phone number. There will be some text messaging in my future.

***

Perhaps it's spring.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Swing and People Trip to Busan

Last weekend I journeyed out to Busan with my swing dance club for a huge swing party. The party itself was awesome, but we also took in two temples--Beomeosa in the north and Haedong Yonggungsa (Dragon Temple) in the east--and staying in a hotel (although Leah, Sarah and I snuck across the street to a jjimjilbang for sleep) near Song Jeong beach, the site of my first road trip in Korea back in September for a surfing festival. The city of Busan is not only huge (second largest city in Korea), it is also quite beautiful in places. The dragon temple was the most beautiful I've visited in Korea (including the close second of Bulgoksa in Gyeongju), and the only thing I disliked about it was the crowd. Every time I go to Busan, I'm reminded about how much I miss living within nearby view of major bodies of water. Much as I love the people and small-town feel of Daegu, if I do another year in Korea, I am seriously considering relocating to Busan.

Busan Swing Dance Field Trip


Too lazy to blog right now, so I'll just leave you the album. More will come later. Promise.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Brown Belt.

Today I got my brown belt. I've only been learning the sixth poomsae form for a few weeks, but I know it pretty well now. Sa Beom Nim is pushing us hard because the black belt test has been scheduled. April 27.

That sounds disturbingly soon.

I kind of know what is supposed to happen at the test, but I don't feel like I'm ready yet. I've been so lazy mentally lately. Like I have about three half written blog entries (including Sunday's pictures to upload) and no real drive at the moment to finish them. I go to taekwondo, I go to work, I come home and sleep. I can't even motivate myself to clean my apartment properly because I just don't care. And I'd rather sleep.

Maybe it's the bizarre weather. Like Sunday was a yellow dust haze, Monday was a lovely spring day, Tuesday it snowed (seriously... it snowed), and today is sunny and cool. We're talking worse than a teenage girl's mood swings. Pretty crazy.

Or maybe it's something else. Like this weird dream I had last night that was so vivid I lay awake a long time this morning just thinking about what it could possibly mean. I dreamt I'd been communicating with a blogger I admire (who doesn't exist in the real blogosphere) who was a university professor. Somehow to finish my master's degree, I ended up taking an online class from this woman which was pretty awesome at first. She found my blog and complimented it and I felt pretty awesome about the whole thing, but then she became obsessed with me. Like she started blogging about me (mind you, we'd not met in real life, although we had real life and blog friends in common and she's my professor). She gets angry I haven't been blogging lately and comes to the conclusion that my life must not be interesting at the moment (not true, I've just been lazy, as I said).

One day I come home and Princess is missing. I can't find her anywhere. Then I read this chick's blog and she's posted about how she played a prank on me. And I get so angry. Why the hell would anyone kidnap the cat of a person you don't know (or that you do know for that matter) as a prank? Is she crazy? Especially the night before a huge paper for her class is due that I need to write in order to get credit for the class.

So I go trying to find her because I want to get Princess. I go to all our mutual friends, but they all seem in on the joke and don't understand why I'm upset at all. They all tell me what a nice and wonderful person she is in real life and that when I meet her, I won't be mad at her at all because she's so awesome and she's just playing a funny trick. I remain skeptical.

I'm still trying to find her, feeling increasingly betrayed by people I thought were friends at every turn when the alarm goes off. In the dream, Princess was still missing and this woman was still an anonymous psycho.

Much as I run it over in my head, the interpretation of this one still eludes me.

Point being that I feel a little disconnected from my life at the moment because I'm not being productive at all and have no idea why. Impending birthday anxieties? Uncertainty about my future plans? Bipolar weather? Strange stalker dreams? Nerves about black belt testing/body image stuff? Who knows?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Weekend Recap.

미안해요. 요즘 너무 바빴어요. 그래서 요기 쓸 수 없었어요. 하지만, 다시 매일 써요. Sorry. These days I've been too busy. So I couldn't write here. But I'll write everyday again. The grammar on that was probably horrible, but as you can tell, I'm back in the Korean studying saddle.

I have almost 200 photos from this weekend to sort through, so the parts of the weekend that involved picture taking, I will discuss in a post later this week. However, before I crash from my weekend with three hours of sleep in a jjimjilbang in Busan, I wanted to let you know what I've been up to for the last five days or so.

Yumiko left for Japan. It was very sad. It didn't really hit me until late on Wednesday night after her goodbye party was over. I stayed out dancing too late with swing club folks I ran into on the downtown streets and ended up with very sore legs in taekwondo for the next two days.

The uni and elementary students start school Monday, so Samantha and I will go back to training together just the two of us. I'll miss them. They were lots of fun. I wish I'd taken more time to talk with each one, but I'm sure I'll see them again someday. On Thursday we played relay games, I think as a way of saying goodbye. It was very silly.

Friday night I met with Jenny, a former teacher at Oedae, and a young man she might be seeing romantically (she hasn't decided). It was good to catch up and since her friend didn't speak English, I tried to speak Korean as often as I could. We had a lot of fun. Hopefully, we can catch up again before she heads out to Australia for her TESOL certificate.

Saturday, Kirsty and I met Amanda at The Holy Grill for her goodbye to Korea brunch. She looked fantastic. I wished her the best of luck returning to Canada. We went shopping after and Kirsty modeled this ridiculously offensive hat for a photo to prevent me from buying it:

Bumper to Bump Her on the Three Way.


After that, I met Swing and People (my swing club) to head over to Busan for the Busan Swing Club's anniversary party. It was amazing. I will write a post about the party and after party later this week. Also, we detoured two temples and those were where I took lots of pictures, including the new blog profile pic. I'll have another post with the highlights from each. I love Busan.

Sunday, we returned and Sarah and I met up with Kelly downtown for dinner, girltalk, and wine. A perfect ending to a fantastic weekend. I even had pictures of David Beckham waiting for me in my inbox (he played in Seoul and Gwen, Samantha, and Samson went to see the game). How unexpected and lovely.

And with that, I bid you adieu and tell you that I'm back, baby!

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