Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Eleven Monthaversary...

One month to one year living in this country, and what present did I get to commemorate this fine occasion?

An ominous note from immigration, send to my handphone:

EKELMAN DIANA MARIE, Stay Period Expiration Date : 2008.08.22

Do I go bad after that? Get forcibly evicted from the country?

I feel like this is the opening sequence to a Grade C action/horror film. Uh-oh!

The History of a Body.

Women are strange. Let me explain. I am perfectly happy with who I am and what I have accomplished in my life so far. The things I still want to accomplish I am making confident strides in the right directions most of the time. I am confident and cool (in a highly dorky way) and intelligent.

Yet, none of this changes the fact that when I find out some girl I don't really like all that much is 20kgs lighter than me, I want to crawl under a rock and die.

I have resisted discussing weight at length on this blog. One reason is that it exposes you to all kinds of horrible personal attacks. Or worse, sounds like a plea for compliments. When I talk about it, I can be negative, and it usually puts me in a foul mood. Especially living in a country where if you're over 60kgs (or 132 lbs), you're expected to just give up on life until you are skinny again. What's a much-closer-to-80kg gal to do?

Ironically, Korea has been pretty good for my body image. Apart from taekwondo and the confidence that's building (and the weight it's caused me to lose), I've kind of accepted the fact that I'm just built exceptionally differently than Korean women. But it also just sort of toughens you up. I'm also really healthy here. Between dance, taekwondo, all the walking I do from not owning a vehicle, and now running, I get about 15 or more hours of activity a week. Apart from some ice cream or frothy coffee beverages here and there (that I'm trying to cut out now) I eat really healthy--lots of veggies and fruits and tofu and stuff.

However, I'd be lying if I said I was content with mere health (though I know I should be). Like any red-blooded American gal, a big part of me wants to be thin. I want to turn heads. I hate the girls who weigh half what I do and chow down on pizza and cupcakes and shit and never look at the gym and will never gain a pound. Even if I love them, I hate them.

Anyhow, so you can understand where all of these complicated, obnoxious, contradictory emotions come from, I will detail my struggle with weight through my life and where I am today:

Part One: The formative years.

My body was born to parents who cared more for ideas than for practicalities. Each nursed their own psychological and physiological experiences that led them to prize things of a more theoretical and scientific than physical and visceral nature. As such, though tiny and active, my young body developed monstrous eating habits, such as consuming an entire large cheese pizza in a single sitting (Dad quipped that I must have an "empty leg"). These habits would prove disastrous when my metabolism became less hyperactive.

(To be fair to my parents, who do both suffer serious health and weight problems that they address as best they can, their proclivity for the more cerebral nurtured my young self in intellectual and ethical ways that all the broccoli and treadmilling in the world could not replace--and I am ever grateful for it.)

Part Two: Puberty.

My body woke up one morning and none of the pants that fit the night before could slide over my now stretch-marked, wide-boned hips. Now, not only was I the weird social outcast of the fifth grade because I read and talked to the teachers and didn't know the latest music and clothing trends, but I was taller and curvier than all the other girls. I responded to this change (and the accompanying social ostracization) by slouching and eating. Eating a lot. Like a 20 piece chicken nugget order with super size fries from McDonald's as an after school snack kind of "lot." I stopped being as active because I was embarrassed by the way the new lumps on my chest flopped around and by how unused to my new form that I was. By the end of middle school, I was about 5'6" and a slightly chubby 150ish lbs.

Part Three: High school.

I decided that my body would not be permitted to begin high school that fat. That summer I limited my daily calorie intake to 500 and began to work out at the gym, requiring myself to burn a minimum of 500 calories according to the machines. This was not a diet--it was disordered eating. Over the summer I grew another inch and got down to 125 lbs. I have one picture from that time. I look sick and skeletal.

A few weeks before high school started, my mother said, "Wow, Diana! You've lost so much weight. If you lose that last 10 lbs, you'll really look incredible." I know she intended this as kindness. My mom also had disordered eating in high school. This back-handed compliment made me realize I was trying to please people that would never be pleased in this way. Ever. I gave up the "diet," though I tried not to pig out as much as I had in middle school. My body evened out to between 140-145lbs for the next two years.

Part Four: Psychotropic adventures and depression.

Sometime junior year of high school, my mental state went seriously downhill. I was put on some antidepressants and a bunch of other stuff happened that I don't care to share with you at this time. Needless to say I don't remember all that much from my last two years of high school, and quite frankly, I don't care to. I graduated 5'9" (my current height) and 235lbs. No kidding.

That summer I got back into exercise--yoga and walking, mostly, because they were about all I could manage at that weight--but I still ate like shit.

Part Five: College and vegetarianism.

My first year of college had ups and downs--as any good first year of college should. I hated being out of shape and fat, but it wasn't until that summer when I worked with my dad and saw the seriously negative ways that his lifestyle choices were wreaking havoc on his health that I got scared. Whoa--that could be me if I keep this shit up. So I got smart.

Actually, I had started considering vegetarianism during my senior year of high school when one of my friends did a huge research paper on factory farming. Once I took an ethics class in college where I was forced to reconcile the fact that as a limited human being, I do not practice my beliefs as actively as I would like. I decided to go for it. I started doing nutrition research and learned a whole lot that summer. I also started walking almost daily. During college I lost about 50 lbs and have pretty much kept it off since then.

Part Six: Post college, teaching and relationships.

Since college, I've noticed that my health is often an indicator of how happy I am--meaning that if I'm taking care of myself and closer to the lower end of the 170-190lbs I've vacillated between since graduation, then I'm probably pretty happy and regularly active. If I'm unhappy, I can swing a bit in the other direction.

However, what remains is this last 20lbs or so I have left to be truly "normal."

What has stopped me from losing it? Because I know I probably could if I focused on it.

When I lost the fifty, I went from invisible to noticed. And it was nice, but it was also scary. I spent a lot of time wondering if the same people who were now my "friends" (not to mention "boyfriends") would be if they had known me when there was a little more of me. I wasn't entirely sure. Especially about men (they are largely a fickle, shallow, superficial lot; easily swayed by the visual--sadly, this is often true of even the really good ones). I had one charming fellow explain that looks may only be 10% of the relationship, but they are the FIRST 10% for most guys.

In some ways these last 20lbs protect me. I know that if a guy likes me when I'm a little heavier than ideal, then he really likes ME, not some idealized image of my beauty.

The other reason is that it's taken me this long (yes, it's been about 9 years since I lost the weight) to realize I don't still weigh 230+ lbs. Once you classify yourself as fat, it's hard to think about yourself in any other light. And the closer I get to "normal" the more I feel like little differences in weight seem to be some kind of regular girl hierarchy (fat girls don't think "oh, she's 10lbs less fat than me, so I hate her" but skinny girls seem to. I don't get it, although I've started, I hate to admit, thinking this way sometimes--as noted above). I don't like the pettiness of all of it.

Plus, I think I'm scared. And I don't want to tell anyone I'm scared.

But I don't want to be anymore.

I like how I feel when I run and dance and jump, and I can do those things better if I lose the weight. And dammit, I want to be hot. Not just cute or pretty or funny or nice, but HOT.

So when I casually mention that I'm working on losing weight or I'm down a kilogram or two, know that there's a lot more at stake there than I'm writing about. But I'm guessing, if you're a woman, you already knew that without me having to tell you.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Being Useful.

After rehearsing the "Runaround Sue" number on Saturday for a couple hours, especially the acting bits at the beginning, I was excited in a way I hadn't been since rehearsing A Midsummer Night's Dream two years ago. Min Gi and I were driving to go get a late dinner, and I tried to explain why I was so giddy.

"It was just like doing theater back home." He nods, listening. A sudden wave of homesickness hits me. "Acting. It's the thing I miss the third-most about America. I'm glad that swing dance can give me a bit of that feeling."

"Third-most? What are number one and two?"

I smile. "Number one is family and friends, of course."

"And number two?"

"Being useful."

"Useful? Being useful?" English is his second language, and sometimes he has to check that he heard me right. I find it reassuring. I don't think anyone has listened that carefully to me in a long time.

"Yes. It's hard to explain." I pause, trying to find the right words. "In America, I was a teacher--a high school teacher. Here, I'm a teacher, too, but it's so different. I was needed there. Necessary. I talked to kids about their problems and lives. And they needed to know English in a much more significant way than they need to know English here."

"They need English here, too. To get good jobs."

"I know, but it's not the same. Sometimes here I feel like a very expensive, white, English-talking, life-sized doll. A novelty item. Frivolous. In my job--especially at a hakwon. I love the particular hakwon where I work--I'm supported as a teacher and treated as a teacher--but it's the nature of being a foreign teacher--of being a foreigner in this country."

"Maybe it will be better in your new job."

"I think so. I hope so. It seems like it will suit my philosophy and my talents better. Leah says that I'm useful in my life here as a kind of pro-American ambassador, which is true, but even in my life sometimes I'm useless. Like with that fight I saw this morning."

"What was different in America?"

"I knew what to do there, you know? Like I could call the police, or I'd know if I should step in or not, or even what the hell they were fighting about! And I used to work at the hotline and talk to people and really help them in a meaningful way. Here, sometimes... I just feel so lost. Useless."

He thinks about this for awhile. It occurs to me that I know him well enough now to know that he's thinking about what I just said in the silence that follows.

Later that night, he asks, "Would you need to be useful to stay in Korea?"

"I would."

I would. But there are many, many ways to be useful in this world.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fly off the handle?

Went to bed early last night after a much-needed luxurious Friday night in my apartment reading and watching movies and just chilling in the aircon. So I woke up even before my alarm this morning already for my third workout in the Couch to 5K running program I started this week. I was pumped.

I've been running in the park near my house. I pass this park everyday on my walk to work. It's nice--it has areas for practicing all kinds of sports, benches for people to relax on, and crazy funny equipment. In the evenings there are aerobics classes for housewives and games of soccer-volleyball. There are always lots of people gathered there--old men playing go-stop, middle school boys practicing basketball, girls rollerskating. It's one of my favorite parts of the neighborhood.

So I went out there this morning, and it was really no different--a man and his mother playing tennis, an elderly couple talking on one of the benches (the man smoking right next to the track--ah irritations), and a group of old men talking in the shade.

About halfway through my run, I notice the group of old men getting worked up about something. Two of them stand up and start pushing each other and shouting. After one of them breaks a bottle on the ground in a fit of rage, I stop jogging fully around the track and avoid the part they are near. I feel a little helpless because as a foreigner I can't really understand what's going on, but I notice a woman on the phone with what I assume are the police as these guys are getting pretty worked up. Most other people in the part are at least glancing at them, though most are minding their own business.

All of a sudden one of the guys has a broom. He smashes it into a tree to break off the head and then starts beating the other man (who is now on the ground not even bothering him anyhow) with the wooden handle. Some of the other men in the group seem to be trying to stop them, but no one is very successful.

It was scary and depressing. Again, I felt useless.

By the end of my workout, they seem calmer, but it still disturbs me. Running feels great, but today I am mixed up about it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Updates.

I have been very busy, and the closer to the end of my contract (Aug 21) we get, the worse my busy-ness will be.

For now I will let you know officially that:

* I will move to a public school in Daegu starting September 1 (although which one is still up in the air--and it was after much annoying dealings with bureaucracies!). I cannot go home between contracts, so instead I'm going to Jeju-do for a weekend.

* I have begun a new training program for running to improve my fitness (and maybe lose these last stubborn kilos). I might at some point train for a race. Also am focusing on cutting crap out of my diet again.

* I am in two dances for my swing club's showcase/goodbye to Ben party July 26 (both now having the political message promoting gay relationships... but I'll explain that at another time). After this I may be assuming a fairly big leadership role in the club.

* I am taking a summer break from studying Korean (though I'm still speaking it fairly regularly).

* My kitties are friends now.

* Min Gi and I are a couple. Not that this is a huge surprise for anyone who's been hanging out with me the last two months, but I clarified its "officialness" recently.

I still have pictures to upload from when Sarah was here and more exciting stories of Korean life, but it will have to wait for another day. Thank you for your patience.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Weather.

The weather has been so disgusting the last few days that I've had a constant headache and woke up Sunday night at three am with my whole body in pain (though this might have also been from 10 hours of swing dancing this weekend).

Ugh.

The Daegu weather for the next few days says it's in the 90s, not below the mid 70s at night. I've moved my floormat into the room with the AC and have no intention of moving back anytime soon.

Please beware of the sweat.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The continuing adventures of Diana and Sarah in Korea...

This is the stuff of which memories are made:

While Sarah* was here, my swing club (스윙과 사람, Swing and People) went on an MT. MT is a Korean thing, but yes, it is an abbreviation for "membership training" (don't we love the Konglish-izing of this country?).

You see, Korean high school students are so burdened with studies that they usually don't have time to do the fun things that we get to do in America, like join clubs and go to proms and such things. As a result, your average Korean high school graduate is VERY REPRESSED and has lots of pent-up sexual and social energy that needs to be released. So college is very laid-back here and most people join lots of social clubs in college.

These clubs take full advantage of university-sponsored week-long holidays to go out to the mountains and drink and hook up. Or go to the beach--and drink and hook up. Or something like that. They call this "MT."

I'm being cynical here. The importance of group dynamics and bonding is actually something very important in Korean culture. Most Koreans will put the group before the individual, which leads to sometimes beautiful acts of friendship and sometimes nearly tragic moments of martyrdom. Americans have similar notions--taking a trip to Canada with your friends for spring break or renting a beach house for a week when you graduate--it's just more organized in Korea.

For our MT, we went "camping" (I put that in quotes because we stayed in a minbak, or cheap boarding house, with cooking facilities and functional plumbing) in Gampo, a small beach town east of Gyeongju. It was really like an adult field trip! The weather was rainy and miserable for most of the trip (at the beach on Sunday, more than one person had their umbrella turned inside out by the wind), but the company was mostly fun, and I had a fantastic time. Gong Bi cooked traditional Korean food for us (which was very exciting--Leah called him a "kitchen bitch" and then tried to translate that, which was just too bizarre to explain) and we danced and talked and drank until the wee hours of the morning.

However, the most exciting part of this trip was peeing.

Let me explain. Somehow, it took us almost 5 hours to drive to Gampo. It doesn't take 5 hours to drive the entire length of the country of South Korea, so how a city less than 60 km outside Daegu took that long to drive, I still have no idea. Along the way, we stopped frequently to pick up drinks and snacks. Stupidly, I forgot to also use the facilities.

So when Joey and Gong Bi were hunting for the "perfect" minbak (it took them about 20 tries and over an hour--but to their credit, they found an excellent one in the end), Leah, Sarah, and I really had to pee. We went into one of the minbaks Joey had decided against and asked to use their facilities, but like most minbaks, they only had bathrooms in the guest rooms. She motioned around back. We thought this meant we might find an outhouse there.

We were wrong. But man, did we have to pee.

Sarah, Leah, and I looked at each other. It was one of those epic moments in burgeoning friendships from which you know there is no turning back. If we did what we were all thinking, our relationships with each other would never be the same again. The hesitation was brief--the next second we had dropped trou and were peeing in a bush around the backside of the building.

Just as we were finishing, Sarah looks between her legs.

"Um... I think there's a guy in the field."

"Are you serious?" Sure enough Leah looks out and there is some 60 year old Korean farmer, jaw to the floor, staring at our bared, squatting bums.

It was difficult to pull up my pants, I was laughing so hard. "We can never tell anyone about this, ever," I say as we climb back into the car, still hysterical.

"Are you kidding," says Sarah. "We'll tell everyone by the end of the night."

"And I can't wait to read about it on your blog," Leah reminds me.

I loosen up a bit. By the end of the trip, I notice Sarah is right (with the aid of soju, of course) and that this is the stuff of memories. This is the kind of daily stupid adventure that I'm missing out on with Sarah by living in another country. And I realize that in Korea, I get to have them all the time, but back home I only ever had them with a few special people--the friends close enough to pull me out of myself for half a second and make me have fun in spite of my general fuddy-duddiness and prudery. And Sarah has always been one of the best at doing that.

* Please note for clarity that in this post that references to Sarah, as they usually are in this blog, mean my sister, not my friend here in Korea who is also a member of swing club and was on this trip.

To see more pictures of Sarah and I at random throughout Korea, I have uploaded them on a facebook album. I usually only post pictures through my blog that are more "artistic" or at least photojournalistic in nature. Facebook is for ridiculous photos of people, sometimes in various states of intoxication. So they exist for your amusement.

Welcome 사자!

My friend Kelly is allergic to her Korean kitty, so I have adopted Saja (meaning "lion"). She and Princess are adjusting to each other nicely. I suspect they'll be good buddies soon, despite language barriers.

안녕하세요! Annyeong Haseyo (Hello)!


She's winking at you

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A typical taekwondo practice at An Il.

When Sarah was here, she accompanied me one time to taekwondo practice. I hate looking at photos of me doing things (lingering body image issues and of course with sports like this I keep critiquing my form and stuff), but I'm glad I gave her the camera anyhow. I thought I'd take you through our typical hour-long practice.

We usually arrive a bit early to change into our uniforms, although since summer began, we've been leaving off the jacket part because it's just too sweaty. After pleasantries or discussions of our body conditions (if relevant), we begin warm ups. We do the same sequence of warm ups and stretches daily and it's really made me a lot more flexible, even with my previous yoga experiences. The focus in taekwondo is always in improving kicking, so there are lots of specific leg stretches that don't always happen in yoga, especially the non-static variety.

After stretches, we practice about five times on each leg the seven basic kicks of taekwondo (all the fancier kicks are variations on these seven). We call them what they are in Korean, but with Sa Beom Nim's dialect, I can't always tell what that means. In English they are: front kick, roundhouse, side kick, hook kick, back kick, spinning hook (or scissors kick), and (not sure of the name or translation here) a straight-legged, downward striking kick.

Scissors kick at Sa Beom Nim's hand.


Look at my leg way up over my head. Good times.


After that we usually do some strength training work, like leg lifts or static back strengthening yoga-style holds. Sometimes they're ok and sometimes I want to die, but it's pretty cool that I can do 60 leg lifts pretty easily now on a regular basis. This is probably why I have shrunk a clothing size or two since January without losing any more weight.

Next, we do some kind of aerobic training. Different days are different things, for example, Mondays are usually jogging and Wednesdays are usually stance/kicking drills. Sometimes we'll jump rope or do evil sprints with vicious things thrown in that make my legs want to cry. But Fridays (the day Sarah was filming) are for jumping. Over each other. It's pretty evil.

The worst part of this is worrying about the fact that I weigh SUBSTANTIALLY more than Samantha and hope to god I'm not seriously injuring her.


After that we do some kicking combo drills with the mitts or body bag, most days. I really like kicking the mitt. It makes a satisfying sound when you kick it hard.

Crazy Hair.


Sarah took a video of one spinning kick combo thing. It's difficult and we're still working on it, but if you want to see:



After that, we usually do poomsae work or practice with breaking holds or sparring. And then we end with cool downs. It varies from day to day, but I enjoy the routine of it all. We usually laugh quite a bit, sweat a ton, and feel exhausted by the end. It's a really good time, and I hate missing it. Since vacation is coming up, Noah (a uni student we belt tested with) from the evening class has been coming to our class, which is fun.

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