Tuesday, April 29, 2008

심사 끝났어요 (Test Finished)

8:15 Sunday morning I meet Samantha to walk over to the taekwondo gym for warm ups and running through the poomsae one last time. Noah, a university student, is already there and Kevin, a sixth grader I used to teach who is Samantha's student now, walks in right behind us. They are both testing for the third level--Noah for dan and Kevin for poom (the equivalent of black belt for children under age 14).

Samantha and I change. About a million worries are running through my head. I don't want to let Sa Beom Nim down. I didn't get enough sleep. I wish my family could see me. I don't want anyone to see me fail. I wonder what I'm going to do when my contract finishes in August...

I try to focus as the other boys arrive. Another uni student at Daegu Catholic who says he's majoring in English Education, but can't speak in English (Noah and I keep translating for him when he and Samantha try to speak--god I hope it was nerves) is testing for third dan also. Ian is there, Samantha's first grade student now nicknamed Moli Apa (머리 아파, meaning "Headache"), who is testing for first poom. Three little ones who I worked out with in January during intensives are testing for second poom.

Three studiomates, about to become second poom, with all their abundant energy.


Sa Beom Nim is all spiffed up for the occasion


During warm ups, I keep messing up my forms. My head is not in this. I need to focus, but I have a hard time doing so. I catch my focus by the end and land the eighth poomsae two or three times. I feel better. And the boys are making me laugh. In the van they ask Samantha and I hundreds of questions, some of which I understand and some I don't. I give them my American dollar to play with.

At the Elementary School, I'm overwhelmed. There are so many people testing. Most are young children testing for pooms. Samantha and I go into the auditorium for announcements. Noah and English run off to chat with friends they know from other studios. The boys take Samantha and I under their protection. We're the only foreigners there, so we need it--with all the shouting "Hi" "How are you?" "What's your name?" sometimes encouraged by their sabeomnims and kwangjangnims who, as adults, should really know better.

The adults testing for dan have to wait until all the children are finished. It's a long wait. Gwen and Samson arrive. I give them my camera. We see some students from Oedae with other studios. Samson talks to their parents and some of his taekwondo friends.

Finally, Noah and English get a text message from Sa Beom Nim telling us to go get in line, so they walk us over to the others waiting for first dan. Samantha and I are number 25 and 26, so we know we'll end up sparring each other, which is good because we've practiced together and know what we're doing. Samantha is especially relieved. Number 27 turns out to be an extremely nervous 20 year old college student majoring in Physical Education, but whose English was remarkably good. He carried on a long conversation, mostly with Samantha, and entirely in English. Apparently his focus is soccer, but he needs to do taekwondo too as part of his studies, so he really needs to pass.

There are also three women who help Samantha fix her dobok from 어머니 태권도, which means "Mother Taekwondo." Apparently it is a studio out near Palgongsan that caters primarily to housewives. These women were really kind and very sweet and tried to hook me up with their (rather hot) sabeomnim (thanks, ladies).

Anyhow... even after getting in line, the wait is really long.

Waiting


In fact, when we get up to actually do the test, it doesn't even register in my brain until we have finished the second poomsae (there are two--8장 and a random form which for us turned out to be 2장) and are prepping for the spar. In some ways this is good, because I didn't overthink it, so I didn't make any major mistakes. But my head wasn't in it, I wasn't focus. I can look at the pictures Gwen took and see how my leg isn't straight enough or I'm looking a little off to the side. I just hope it's good enough, since I know I can do a lot better than I did.

Sparring


It's all over so fast. It felt like less than two minutes, though it was more like five or ten.

Sa Beom Nim's friend from the ski trip, the one who called me an ajumma, came over right after to tell me how awful I did. Ha ha. I love that third grade boy humor where they tease you in a way that borders on cruel considering I was feeling really uncertain of how I did. But then he said we did well. And Gwen and Samson come down to congratulate us. And Sa Beom Nim said we did fine.

But officially we won't know for 15 days after the test. Waiting is hard and nerve-wracking. But I do feel like a pressure that was with me for the last few weeks has lifted. To see some more of the photos Gwen took from our test (and a few I snapped of my studio brothers), check out the album:

Taekwondo Black Belt Test (태권도 1단 심사)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tomorrow.

Just finished the last practice before my black belt test tomorrow. Forms look good. I think I'll be ok on sparring. I'll be fine. I can do this.

I have been stressed and worried and sore this week.

And I'm pushing all that aside. Tonight I'm going out with my friends at swing for a bit and then turning in early because I have to be at my gym tomorrow morning at 8:30. I just want to relax tonight and have a good time. Not to think about poomsae or kicking or anything like that.

I'm trying to think of the test like opening night of a play--the first "real" performance after months of rehearsal--to get the same kind of adrenaline rushed high that comes with it. Yeah, sure there is anxiety, but the good kind that spurs you toward victory, not the kind that makes you want to crawl in a hole and die.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

For Mom...

Mom has asked me to get more pictures of me, so I've been handing my camera off to people lately when I go swing dancing, but not everyone is great at using my camera--especially trying to capture something with lots of movement in low lighting. But I found this one from a couple weeks ago that I just adore. I think Lena took it, but it might have been Leah or Joey.


Nothing is really in focus, but you can see what a good time I'm having, that I'm wearing crazy colors to match the crazy lighting in Azurajang and that Joe and I are actually in step (yes I can dance a little now... hee hee).

Monday, April 21, 2008

Herb Hillz

Herb Hillz is a children's folk-themed playland/petting zoo in Daegu with all kinds of strange and interesting things to gawk at--and of course, photograph. Se Jin and I went here one Saturday afternoon in spring. The blossoming flowers enhanced the surreally chintzy cuteness of the place. Really... I couldn't help but smile at all the cuteness, but as Se Jin pointed out, the "real thing" in Yeongchon is much better.

Welcome to Herb Hillz.

As I admitted freely to a friend who distracted me by waving a Hello, Kitty in my face, I've succumbed to Asia's unique all-consuming brand of CUTE. The girls, the music, the boys, the clothing, the candy, the edible animals, seriously, EVERYTHING here is abysmally, distressingly, overwhelmingly adorable. You in the U.S. of A full of your ironic distance and cool, cynical exteriors cannot fathom the lengths to which Asian countries pursue cute. It is almost an art form.

This seems to have two effects on confused expats who witness layers upon layers of bubble-gum pink clothing on a woman of 35. One is to reject and mock it--to become almost emo in an attempt to distance oneself from the couple-tees and the infantalized sexuality of the pop bands. The other is to embrace and revel in it--to laugh endlessly as you and your friend fight over the last Princess Cat notebook in the stationery store or to find yourself referring to the slender boy with the man-purse in pink and a sparkly tie to match "hot" to the intense befuddlement of your friends fresh off the boat or back home (I swear if you look past the unfortunate fashion sense, he's a great catch). Most of the time I find myself in the latter category. But Herb Hillz is a place so disgusting in its adorability that even I almost developed diabetes of the eyes from the intensity of the sugar-frosted insanity. This place I cannot sufficiently describe for you in words, so pictures will have to manage to speak for me.

Everybody loves a robot. Especially male "anatomically correct" ones (check out the full album for a side view).

More cock. Of course.

Sad monkey.

Cute pigs. How can you be afraid of them? But, alas, Se Jin was...

There were some flowers that were just beautiful--not freakishly cute. But they were hard to notice, surrounded as they were by sugary ridiculousness.

Of course, there was a belly dancing show.

And an animal show. With aliens and faeries. Too bad the lighting was so unfortunate--most of my pictures sucked

For extra insanity (and some beautiful flowers), check out the full album:
Herb Hillz

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mr. Creel.

A letter I'm not sure I'll send:

Dear Marty Creel,

Do you remember me? I went to Eastern Middle School in 1994-1995 when you taught eighth grade Social Studies. You called me Ekelperson, the political correction to my last name, and I hated it so much that I worked my ass off in your class just to piss you off. All the other eighth grade girls had a crush on you--thought you looked like Brad Pitt on a motorcycle. I hated you for it.

But I loved your class. I've never worked harder on a school assignment in my life than I did on my hypercard stack about the Incas (including my almost-finished master's thesis about teaching English to Advanced Placement students). I still remember crying at Jeremy Irons and The Mission (though again, I hated you for playing it the day before spring break and depressing me for most of my vacation). When you gave me the award for "Passionate Inquiry" at the end of the year, I was as shocked as I was angry. I wanted an award in English. I wanted to be a writer.

I remember hating you mostly because everyone loved you. It was the mid-nineties and grunge attitudes ruled. Whatever was "popular" must, of necessity, suck. However, the truth is, that you are one of the best teachers I have ever had; and having attended magnet schools between 4th and 12th grades, an honors college, and a prestigious writing master's program with educators such as Hepsie Roskelly (former head reader of the AP Language and Composition exam) and Nancy Johnson (who has sat on the Newberry Committee), that's pretty impressive. Sorry I hated you.

I am a teacher now, and sometimes I'm hated by the students I push hard to go beyond their current capabilities. For three years I taught English at Eleanor Roosevelt High School--all levels, from Special Education students in integrated classrooms who never did quite manage to complete the year after their court case or the birth of their child to Advanced Placement Language and Composition students currently attending Harvard and will one day rule the world--seriously. I often think about your pedagogical choices with new insight--and admiration.

But teaching in the U.S. was hard if you cared about the education of the young minds entrusted to you. Too hard for me, sadly. I was a good teacher. Possibly, a great teacher. But Saturday nights spent at a jazz bar grading a stack of essays as tall as the glass of cabernet savignon I was sipping led me to look for some other outlet. I had no time for my other passions (besides teaching) like writing and travel. So last year, I quit, took a position teaching English as a foreign language in South Korea and spend my days doing taekwondo and teaching children who are nearly identical compared to the endless diversity in the DC area I am used to, and my nights swing dancing and learning Korean from my dance partners. It's wonderful. But I do miss teaching in the U.S.

What I don't miss is hearing about knuckle-headed initiatives from hard-assed administrators who have forgotten the day-to-day "in the trenches" stuff of teaching that cuts funding to programs that actually use their funds effectively to educate and enrich the lives of the young people who engage in them. When I meet people who didn't go to the Montgomery Blair High School magnet program, all of their friends from high school are drug addicts or having their fifth babies or some other such stereotype from a bad after school special. My friends (hell, my casual acquaintances) are working on residencies at Yale, Ph.Ds in Math or Economics from Cornell and University of Chicago, working pro bono as lawyers for AIDS nonprofits, travelling the world and making it a better place.

Teachers being forced to retire from these budget cuts, such as Mr. Bunday and Ms. Dyas, may have ostensibly taught subjects like Physics and Calculus, but just like when you were once as an eighth grade social studies teacher, they taught so much more. They empowered us to figure out our passions and to pursue them. They encouraged us to think in a world that would rather tell young people not to, because it is afraid of their ideas.

(Why are we, American society I mean, afraid of teens anyhow? Most of the ones I've ever known are pretty damned amazing. They care about life in a way that those of us "wiser" and "more mature" can't remember... and hell if we could, we wouldn't want to because it was also a horrible, chaotic, mixed-up time where those same friends of mine so successful now endured eating disorders, suicide attempts, severe depressions, heartbreak, and abuse to name a few... How the hell did we make it out of there in one piece??? Oh yes, because Blair provided a refuge. A safe harbor where we could think about the fourth dimension and the environmental causes of pfsteria instead of our daily teen angst.)

I know being an administrator is not easy. I considered it, thinking I could do some good, but realizing it's a position I would never want. You have to balance all of these impossibilities--budgets, programs, students, teachers--and it's hard to know the bottom line.

But, Mr. Creel, and I can't believe I am talking so casually and honestly to you, this odd and imposing figure in my memories still telling me how to compose a successful five paragraph essay, if I may be frank-- no good can come of cutting funds in so damaging a manner to the Blair magnet program. It is a program that works. The electives are open to all students at Blair, and many of the non-magnet students took Marine Biology and Thermodynamics right along with me and benefited from the exceptional talents of the teachers who were the backbone of the program's success. Diffusing these students and these teachers won't really benefit the county as a whole because it will isolate them. They will each have to become islands and rocks fighting alone in a sea of mediocrity and oppression without their safe harbor. And many won't make it.

I'm not sure I would have. I'm really not.

Please, sir. Please reconsider.

With love,
Diana E.--former student, current teacher, concerned citizen.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Broad Dating Abroad.

Should I ever get around to publishing my dating self-help book, that may end up being the title of it. And it would contain excerpts like this one:

He's cute. Nice body--of course, I noticed that two weeks ago when I first met him. Good smile. A little shy initially, but he seems to be warming up. He dances well, and it turns out he speaks English well (you never really know at first).

I was responding to another person's question, but he overhears.

"That's not a good sign," I say.

"What's not a good sign?"

I smile. This is one of those conversations where flirting helps. "For my friend's relationship. He loves dancing, but his girlfriend got jealous that he was dancing with other girls and made him go home."

"Why is that a bad sign?"

"Well... dancing is his passion. Ben can't live without it. He just... wouldn't be Ben. He needs a girlfriend who understands he's gonna dance with other women at swing club."

"But can't she learn how to dance?"

"Well, she is. But it takes time. And Ben has been dancing for much longer than he's known this girl. She needs to understand that it makes him happy."

"If I had a girlfriend, and she really hated that I went dancing... well if I loved her, I'd give it up."

"Really? Even if it was your passion?"

"Well..." He smiles at me. "Yeah. I would."

"I think I just figured out why my dating in this country has failed."

"Why's that?"

"See... if I had a boyfriend who got jealous when I went dancing but wouldn't go with me, I'd find another boyfriend. One who loved that I have interests like dancing and taekwondo, even if they mean I sometimes touch other men."

He starts laughing.

"No, really," I protest. "I think it's a whole other approach to love. I believe it's important to find someone who fits with you as you are and as you grow. Not someone who you have to change yourself for just to hold on to."

"Interesting."

I smile. "I think so."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Alive...

...but only just barely.

Monday I was so sick that I actually took the day off work, which hasn't really happened yet in Korea. I took a half day once, but I haven't needed a whole day until I got what is likely the flu.

I feel better. Went to work today, not to taekwondo, though. Which is worrisome since our test happens in less than two weeks.

I have many pictures from this weekend I'm working on uploading and sharing. Also many adventures worthy of blogging about. We'll see what I get to when I'm feeling a bit more up to scratch.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Election Day Smoothies!

The main downside of working at a hagwon (instead of a public school or a university) in Korea is that you have a lot less vacation time. Sometimes you don't even get the day off for national holidays (although this is in a legal gray area if it's one of the "red" days on the calendar). I was sad because Wednesday was an election day here in Korea and most people were getting off work, but Oedae was going to stay open. However, we got a happy surprise on Monday when Gwen said the other hagwons in the area were closed, so we would be, too! Yay!

Unfortunately, the weather sucked, so I didn't feel in a day-trip excitement mood. Instead I went to Costco to get the makings for fresh fruit smoothies.

You see, Korea has been in strawberry season for the last three weeks or so. It's been amazing. I am eating fresh strawberries almost daily and it has kicked in the urge for fruit, so when my friend Kelly said she was going to do a fruit fast, I thought I'd take up the opportunity to eat more healthy.

I bought a small blender on Tuesday and then Wednesday afternoon ventured out to Costco for plain yogurt, frozen berries, grapefruit. I also found some individual packed nut snacks that were too amazing to pass up and cat litter for the kitty. Then I went back to my house to experiment.

The key to a good fruit smoothie, as I learned from Kelly, is to use plenty of banana as a base. You can add peanut butter to taste if you like. I've made a grapefruit/orange smoothie with orange juice, various strawberry smoothies, and am now sipping on a fresh pineapple smoothie. Yum. What a perfect summer treat!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Weekly Update.

I've been so crazy busy with things this last week, but it's been pretty good overall.

Friday evening I met up with Jenny for wine and girltalk at That. She leaves for Australia at the end of this month to study English there for four months! That's very exciting. She's a little nervous, but I know she'll do fine and have so much fun that she'll have a hard time coming home. She gave me a birthday present (too sweet) and encouraged my Korean studies--haha!

On Saturday, class was good. We're studying out of Sogang 2A, starting on lesson 6. On my own, I've made it up through the last lesson of 1B, so I'll need to catch up a bit, but it wasn't that much of a stretch for me to jump into lesson 6. The lessons build on each other as far as vocabulary goes, but only a little bit so for grammar, so I was ok. But the bad news is that my amazing teacher who is energetic and fun is going to Vietnam for a year or two to teach Korean and leaves at the end of this month! Oh no! I'm happy for her and her adventures, but I selfishly wish she'd change her mind so that she can keep teaching our class.

After class and lunch with some classmates and pals, it was off to Seoul for swing dancing. There was this big international workshop/festival for lindy hop going on that Ben, Gong Bi, Leah, and Joey were going to attend and while the workshops were out of my league as far as skill level goes (hey guys, I just started doing this a couple months ago...), there was a party-only option where I could go dancing in the evenings with a live band and all the super-awesome dancers from all over the world. It was a blast.

Sunday I met up with Amanda and Good Man, her friend and blogger "Jennipal", and Jennifer's friend DoYoung. We went to the mega-Kyobo downtown (where we were interviewed by middle schoolers and I found all the study materials I wanted) and then to see cherry blossoms by the Han river. The weather was so incredible, we decided to study Korean by the river (yeah... I'm so cool...).

After that, amazing Indian food and more dancing. It was too late to go back to Daegu Sunday night, so I went back Monday morning and missed taekwondo.

Seoul Swing and Cherry Blossoms


These are the pictures from the weekend. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Trying not to think.

Sometimes things are so overwhelming that you just don't want to think about them. Like my black belt test that is less than a month away.

I'm not letting myself think about it. Because if I did, I'd be paralyzed with fear.

If a thought bubbles up unawares, before I can stifle it or suppress it, it is wrought with anxiety and old fears. My eternal identity was as a non-athletic type--the hyper-intellectual, the kind of artsy and creative theater geek, the outdoorsy yoga-ish weekend exerciser (but easily winded when climbing mountains), the voluptuous (used in the way that women do when they are a little overweight and don't want to say "fat" because it's both ugly and inaccurate) woman, the occasional do-gooder...

"I can't" was an essential part of my gym class vocabulary.

Sure, I've been working out semi-regularly since college (especially loving step aerobics classes), but I've never thought of myself as strong or physically coordinated. And the thought of me having a black belt in any kind of martial art seems external. Does not compute. It shuts my brain down. I cannot reconcile my beliefs of what a martial artist is with my self image.

So, sad to say, I am coping by eating too much--chocolate, cheese, pizza, frying up homemade hash browns, etc. It doesn't help that I'm PMSing.

It's so ironic that I'm subconsciously fighting myself becoming a true athlete with my binges. It does help to label it, but if I'm going to stop, I'll have to acknowledge the fear of this test I will take at the end of the month. The consuming fear, not just that I won't pass, but that I, that girl whose soccer coach told her parents that she'd never play well because she's not aggressive or whose basketball coach said she was afraid of winning, am somehow incapable of passing. That no matter how well I can work the forms or spar, that the judges who don't even speak my language will see into my heart (like those statues in The Neverending Story could do) and know my fear. That they'll intuit it's impossible for me to achieve it--that the universe would have to realign itself for Diana to become a successful anything related to sports.

And yet... the test itself is inconsequential. My body has already changed, adapted to the daily workouts and learned the moves despite my brain trying to convince it that I can't. I'm stronger than I've ever been in my life (not necessarily the thinnest I've been, but that's a different story). I can do more with my body than I knew possible. Like skiing my first black diamond rather easily this winter and learning to swing dance and being told that I pick it up quickly (shock!).

I'm already more confident. I already know how to do this stuff.

I just have to spend this month learning how to believe this. That may be harder than learning the eighth poomsae.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Fool's Day.

What a delightful holiday. I even made the honors students write up a prank they might pull to celebrate this highly underrated holiday. I was slightly disappointed with their lack of creativity, but ah well. As bloggers go, I thought Zen Kimchi's entry on Amanda took the cake. If you follow Amanda's blog (are an "Afanda" as the article claims), you should definitely read it.

This is my family's favorite holiday. It began small. Dad waking up early enough that us kids weren't thinking and saying, in all seriousness, "Oh my god! Look at that two headed man walking down the street!" Yes, we learned at a young age not to trust anyone in a way that therapy has yet to undo completely... haha!

It evolved over time. Like the time my friend Lindsay and I called my parents pretending to be in the hospital because Lindsay broke her leg (I had been staying over for the night). Or last year when I told my parents I was leaving for Korea, not in August as planned, but NEXT WEEK!

Mom usually gets the brunt of it because she's so darn trusting (not a bad quality at all, but we're horrible and exploit it on the wonderful holiday that was yesterday) Of course, it's hard to punk my dad. He's always got his dander up for April Fool's Day, so direct attacks don't work at all. Unfortunately, he also blatantly misses subtlety. Like the time (senior year of high school) I got my aunt Jeanine's help to buy a pregnancy test to open it up and leave all the packaging in the bathroom and then leave the phone book open on the dining room table with abortion clinic numbers circled. In red. He totally missed it. We had to tell him about it later.

This year, I tried to punk my parents good. I hadn't been blogging for a week and they went to Florida last week to visit my ADORABLE triplet niece and nephews, so I hadn't even spoken to them on the phone. My mom keeps telling me I can't fall in love with a Korean man and stay here forever, so of course, that's what I was going to tell them--that I met someone amazing and would be with them forever!

Last night, I called them at work (them being 13 hours behind me). Dad did pause, but he laughed eventually. Mom's work number had changed so I couldn't get through. I was very disappointed.

I tried to squeeze it in before midnight their time by calling after TKD, but Dad had already stolen my joke. Sarah was about as "fooled" as he was, but Mom apparently flipped out! I wish I'd seen it...

There are weird times living abroad you "miss" home--I mean everyone understands and expects Christmas and stuff, but when you can't be there for someone's "leaving DC" party or something happens that only your best friend or sister would fully appreciate, it can hit you pretty hard. Stuff that people here don't always get why you're sad about it, even though I imagine they have to experience the same thing...

Welcome back!

After my temporary hiatus from blogging, I have returned to fill your days with amusement in my tales from the hermit kingdom (one of Korea's many nicknames). So, hello once again.

I began Korean language class at the YMCA again on Saturday. They gave us a placement test, which I messed up on, but that's ok because they let me take the "advanced" class anyhow. The class is taught in Korean, and while we are using the Sogang textbooks still, we aren't really following them too closely in my class. William agreed to try the next level up with me, and Gwen joined the class so I know two people in there already.

I really like our teacher. She's not as much fun to drool over as hottie teacher was, but she's animated and breaks things down fairly well. I am the person in the class who has been in Korea the shortest time by about a year (and the only one, I think, whose significant other is not Korean... seeing as how I lack a significant other--I was unclear about whether Keiran(sp?)'s girlfriend was from Korea or New Zealand, as he is), but I understood most of what we did in class, if not always right away. I'm probably the weakest student, but I don't think there's as much of a ridiculous gap between my ability and the next couple people up as there was when I threw myself into "intermediate" last semester--and I managed to catch up there. I'll just have to study a TON.

Gong Bi (a Korean fellow in the swing dance club--his nickname in Korean means "North Korean soldier" because he's so skinny--wrong, right?) has begun teaching a new jitterbug class on Saturday nights. I'm not taking the class since jitterbug is very easy to pick up from practice, but it's been good for the club because lots of new people showed up on Saturday night. There were a few new Korean fellows, two of whom picked up the moves very quickly, so they should be really fun to dance with in about two months (right now they are merely enjoyable). I even ran into Iosha, who I hadn't seen since she quit going to the YMCA class.

It's coming down to the wire in taekwondo. Testing is less than four weeks away. I'm nervous as hell, even as I become more confident with my moves at every practice. It didn't help that a sudden indigestion made me go home early from practice on Monday, but I'm getting there. I'm getting there...

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