Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quitting? Cadavers? Angels?

What a long, strange, emotional day it's been.

I had one more (very unpleasant) procedure this morning to confirm my diagnosis. Alas, it is the chronic autoimmune disease my doctor suspected it to be. Although we were pretty sure that's what it was, finally being confirmed made me just crash... Now I really do have to deal with this for the rest of my life. I started the medication to actually treat the condition (before we were treating symptoms). It's gonna be a rough ride.

Which got me thinking that I'm really stressed out by taekwondo these days. The late time makes it hard to get a good night's sleep. Also, by the time 9:20 rolls around, I'm too tired to try as hard as I can. So I realized that for my health, I might have to give up my lessons. This made me really sad because I so much enjoy learning taekwondo, but I just haven't been going that often since I've been so tired and stressed out these days.

So I sent a message to Kwanjangnim saying that I'd like to talk because my health was not so good (he knows I've been missing a lot these days and that I've been going to the hospital). He suggested coming to the 6:30 class... Now, why didn't I think of that? I felt so much better after talking to him. I can keep doing taekwondo, even if it's with the younger kids, but still get to bed at a reasonable hour.


After my medical appointment, I met my friend Boo-yoon, who is a med student at Kyungbuk National University, for lunch. We went to a Russian restaurant downtown that is not particularly vegetarian friendly on the menu, but they willingly substituted eggs for meat on a stir fry dish. It was quite delicious.

Then we went to his school which was having a festival of sorts. Each of the different departments (medical specialties) had displays set up to teach the general public about different diseases and health issues. Boo-yoon's group gave a demo about cardiovascular disease, and he got a kick out of making his friends try to give their presentations in English.

Anyhow, the most bizarre exhibit was the anatomy group. The first part featured fetuses and babies with congenital birth defects preserved in formaldehyde jars. It was very disturbing, especially the really awful defects, like being born with no brain or only one eye. Then they had three cadavers on display--two men and one woman. Now, I've seen a dissected cat before, so I was kind of interested to see a human, but really it just looked disturbingly like hacked up meat. Especially with the faces covered, they just didn't look human at all. And the preservative they were using made all the organs various shades of brown. It was all just really overwhelming, so I had to leave after just a few minutes.

And no, I didn't get any photos. I did ask if I could take some, but Boo-yoon said it would be disrespectful.

All medical-scienced out from my day thus far, I treated myself to the movie Angels and Demons based on the book by Dan Brown. This was a far better movie than The Da Vinci Code, though I had read that book before watching the disappointing film version, whereas I went in today with no prior knowledge of the story. I really enjoyed Ewan McGregor's performance and Hans Zimmer's score.

So now, I'm off to the early bedtime I've allotted myself. Happily. I hope your day was less... bizarre.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Thanks, North Korea. Thanks.

Isn't our little peninsula just chock full of international news this week?

Today, Kim Jong Crazy conducted a nuclear test.

Also, not yet picked up internationally, but I'm expecting it to be any moment now, some English teachers are being quarantined after participating in a hagwon's training session with a swine-flu infected teacher. As it is, a co-worker all asked me if I'd spent time with other foreigners this weekend and suggested I go get checked at a hospital.

Because every foreigner in Korea knows and regularly socializes with every other foreigner here. Really.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Nation is in Shock.

Yesterday morning, former president Roh Moo-hyun took a hike up a mountain near his home, tried to bum a cigarette off a guard, and then leaped to his death. It was premeditated, as the lengthy suicide note reveals, but everybody seems to be in shock. He leaves in his wake a mourning family, a legacy of corruption, and a confused, betrayed populace.

Our swing club had planned to dance in the park, as Asurajang was unavailable and the almost-summer weather has been lovely. We considered, under the circumstances, cancelling our meeting, but a huge festival was going on downtown that seemed to be unperturbed by the turn of events, so we went on. Quite a few people gathered to watch us swing it. Lots of fun.

Reminds me of 9.11 when I spent part of the evening watching the A&E Pride and Prejudice marathon and having a dance party to oldies in a dorm room. Nothing quite like a national tragedy to make people silly.

I think it's just my way of coping with the sadness--by reaffirming life.

Friday, May 22, 2009

One Year.

"When life is boring... take a duck boat" --Min Gi's text message to me the day after our anniversary. (More significant and funny if you realize that we nearly always text in Korean, even though we usually speak in English.)

Amazing Crab Rangoon at Shanghai Grill

Geese and Duck Boat on Suseong Lake (수성못)

After our paddling about, the boats became quite a bit more popular!

Min Gi's first game of mini-golf. Ever.

After lunch in at an American-style Chinese restaurant in Suseong-gu (the posh uppity area of Daegu) and paddling about on a very windy Suseong Lake in a duck boat, we headed downtown for a movie, but couldn't find parking. Instead, we went to Viva, a yummy Italian place in my neighborhood and then to the Lotte Cinema near E-mart to see Star Trek (which was awesome and made me want to watch the original series again!).

The day was beautiful, the company spectacular, and the conversation comfortable. Here's to one year together, and many more to come!

Check out the other photos:


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dear Students,

I was asked by the English-language newspaper staff to write a letter to the students for their spring edition. I hate writing these things (sometimes). I decided to make it a blog entry. Enjoy:

I'm often asked by the students of Taegu Foreign Language High School what the differences are between Korean and American high schools. Having taught in both countries, I can honestly say that I'm still learning new things about the differences every day. However, I thought I'd prepare a list for you of some of the things that really surprised me when I first started teaching here:

1) Every student in a Korean class has the same schedule and the teachers come to the classroom. In America, students are all taking different levels of math, languages, and elective courses, so very rarely do you have all 7-8 classes with the same students all day. And teachers have their own classrooms where students come to them at the scheduled period, so teachers are there before the students and students are expected to be on time. You get in trouble if you show up after the bell rings in America.

2) Korean students have different classes every day, as their schedules are done weekly. American students have the same 7-8 subjects every day (sometimes split into 4 longer classes every other day) for a whole semester or year. So American students only have 7-8 teachers and they see them everyday.

3) Exams are a much bigger deal in Korea. Exams are still important in America, but teachers can and do use other ways to assess students (such as projects, essays, experiments, reports, or presentations). However, tests are only one small part of the equation.

4) Korean students spend a lot of time at school studying. I think this is partially because of the importance of the tests, as I described above. When American students finish their classes, they can go home to work on school assignments, work a volunteer or part-time job, or participate in extracurricular activities such as sports teams or clubs. This is all considered an important part of a well-rounded education and most American universities look for evidence that a student has participated in some activities outside of the school day.

5) Korean society is a lot more involved with education than American society is. That means parents here are less likely to expect their children to do chores or contribute to the running of the household, but they put more pressure on their students to perform in school. Generally, students here are more respectful of teachers without the teacher having to do anything to "earn" student respect.

That's just a brief summary that I noticed, as a teacher. Of course, many of my astute second-grade American culture students have observed that there are differences in the social lives of American students, such as prom and dating. I hope you learned a few things here, but if you ever have any questions, I welcome you to come ask me. I like curious students!

Diana E.

Longing for Comfort Eating

I'm in a foul mood and want nothing more than to down a pizza, french fries, or ice cream. I'm in a bad enough mood that I want all three.

And in the past, I've done just that, usually along with a liter or two of diet coke.

Honestly? It did make me feel better. For a few hours at least, that feeling of being stuffed full of delicious food really did perk up my mood.

But nowadays I have no such outlet. Because all of these foods are on my banned list. And not because of weight loss-because of my health condition.

I hate the deprivation. But I just have no choice. If I eat like that, I won't just have to do an extra TKD workout or eat more fruits or veggies the next day, I'll be in AGONY for days and have strange things coming out of my body. I've become ridiculously sensitive to any dietary abnormality. My body rebels like a 14 year old girl.

I'm trying to find other coping methods. At the height of my ire, I took a ten minute walk out in the sunshine, but I'm still frustrated.

And another stupid thing? Even though I'm not eating any of this delicious stuff, I'm still stuck at the same damn weight. AAAAARRRRGGGHHH!

Ok. Ending rant now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Being Rescued.

Last night, I was leaving taekwondo when I realized that I didn't have my house keys. I distinctly remembered locking the door, but after that, I don't know where they went.

Of course, I started panicking. I went back to the studio to search, but during practice, I'd lost my contact lenses. I was blind. I couldn't remember how on earth to pronounce the Korean for "key," even though I could spell it, so I was having trouble asking my studiomates if they'd seen my keys. Finally, I gave up and called Min Gi to ask him what the word was.

I was so distraught, I couldn't even understand what he was saying. At this point, I was guessing I'd probably dropped them in the park on the walk to the studio and without the aid of my glasses, conveniently locked inside my apartment, I would never be able to find them 10:30 at night. If they were even still there.

I think I might have yelled at Min Gi on the phone (not about anything, just about being blind and effectively mute in a foreign country when I was supposed to be in bed). My mind raced over the other important thing I thought I lost this week (a USB drive, which I found this morning, thankfully). I was a failure. Useless. Less than a baby.

Walking home very slowly, trying to squint a little and scan the ground for a sign of my keys, I ignored the middle schoolers in the park commenting on my foreignness (though even I would think my behavior must appear very strange). I arrived at the door of my building, just as Min Gi called, asking how the search was going. I told him I had found nothing. I asked if he would come open my door.

He said he'd be there in five minutes (he lives a 40 minute drive away). He'd gotten in his car right after I called him the first time.

Then, as I walked up to my apartment door, there, in the lock, are my keys.

I am an idiot.

Two minutes later, Min Gi is in my apartment.

"Well," he says with a grin on his face. "This is the story: I wanted to see you so much that I couldn't wait until tomorrow, so I drove here to see you. I'm the crazy one."

We laughed and then he went home because we both had a really early morning.


Most girls have a rescue fantasy. Maybe it's hardwired in there, developing along with the fallopian tubes and milk-producing glands. Or maybe the result of downing too many doses of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty as a young lass. Or perhaps, as my feminist parents believed, it came from the false gender role imprinting in our society that teaches women to be helpless victims and work only on cultivating our beauty and manners so that we can snag a big, strong man as soon as possible.

You see, I have the opposite fantasy--that I don't need nobody to do nothing for me. I am extremely uncomfortable asking for help.

Ironically, I've realized that rather being the fully enlightened next generation, perhaps we swung the pendulum too far the other way. Complete independence is a fantasy as much as that white-horse riding knight in his jazzed up armor was. Living in Korea has only pointed this fact out to me numerous times--I am indeed dependent on my school to assist me, on my parents to send me important documents from the U.S., on my friends for advice and support.

Funny thing is, once I realized that the whole princess fantasy/fiercely independent GRRRL was a false dichotomy women become trapped in (just like the madonna/whore thing), it freed me to finally make my own decisions about life and love.

And I think I'm making some good ones....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Reviewing Food Diary

I'm eating a lot, but it's mostly healthy. I think I need to lay off the peanut butter. Whenever I buy it (and it's pretty expensive here in Korea where it's an import item), it's gone in a few days. That's a lot of fatty stuff to be eating so quickly, even if I'm usually eating it with fruits.

I think my bowel movements are more regular when I'm less stressed out. The yoga really seems to be helping, so I should keep up with it. Perhaps when it's offered MWF (as it should be from next month), I should do that since it will mean more regular yoga in my week.

I also might need to admit that spicy food has a bigger effect on me than I want to admit--NOOOOO! I can't give up curry and jjigae when I've already given up chocolate and yogurt!!! It's just not fair. It's not fair at all.

That's how I feel about this whole thing some days. Like a spoiled little brat who's had my favorite toy taken away. It's just so hard to say "no" to everything all the time. People think I'm just really fussy or trying to lose weight (which I am, but that's not the main focus here).

I mean... ok... I'm doing it and it's for my health, but I still don't know exactly what things set me off and what things are ok, so it's not like a normal weight loss diet where you can indulge a little if you limit portions. I can't have ANY dairy or ANY chocolate or ANY soda. So when I'm craving it, I'll eat a ton of strawberries or like 3 bananas at once and then feel really bloated and gross.

Down 1 kg. Weighing in now at 79kgs (that's 173.8 lbs)


Last Friday was Donggap Sabeomnim's last day a Tae Yang Taekwondo. Turns out since he got married near the end of last year, he's bought his own studio up in Chilgok and is even going to have two foreign students (hagwon teachers, but he hadn't met them yet when he told me about them). I'm so happy for him, but I'm going to miss him. He took a little bit of time to adjust to me at practice, but once he did, he was a great instructor who really pushed his students and he was the one who pushed the dance aspect of TKD which made a lot of workouts fun.

His replacement is... well... I'm having a lot of trouble enjoying his classes. The new instructor is a tall, skinny young man (probably not even finished university) with crazy hair who is clearly very good at soccer and taekwondo, but also clearly has no experience teaching others. He's like a big, goofy kid with ADHD. This could be a good thing for getting along with the students, but he has no discipline whatsoever.

Practices haven't been starting until 9:30-9:45 (they're supposed to begin by 9:20 at the latest). We don't do group warmups, and the only real exercise I've gotten is when he has us use the jumpropes--but even that was unstructured. We had no set numerical goal or type of jump he wanted us to practice, he just let us go. He put on music, but then after about 8 bars of each song, he'd switch to a new song. This made it really difficult to get a groove going and made me keep stopping and starting.

Beyond this, we've been sort of working out on our own or playing games. Every night.

I really don't have a problem with the goofing off or game playing once in awhile; the students need it to build up group dynamics and 정. However, when we haven't kicked, punched or done a single poomsae in a week, I really have to wonder why I'm paying 90,000 won a month to learn taekwondo.

Just as we have no clear start of our session, we don't have clear endings. Those of you who do taekwondo know that it's important to salute the instructor to mark the end of the practice. However, since I'm in the last class of the day, some of the boys stay after this salute to work on tricks or special routines for a show that's coming up. Sometimes I'll stay to practice a poomsae or a new move we learned in class, but with his late start times and unclear finishes (no salute), I end up just hanging around until 10:30 (I used to be out consistently by 10:20) watching others do stuff, wondering if I'm allowed to go change and leave yet.

It's so frustrating.

I'm getting to the point where I'm considering quitting after I get 2 dan. Or at least finding a new studio. I don't want to do that to Kwanjangnim--I really like him and when he is instructing class, the classes are awesome. I also love my studiomates and am FINALLY at the point where I've been pretty well accepted there and don't want to deal with the rigamorole of joining another studio and being the foreign freak for a few more months.

But at the same time, I'm not getting a good workout AND I'm not learning taekwondo! It's not a good situation.

Before I completely give up on the whole studio, I will talk to Kwanjangnim if ADHD Sabeomnim continues to piss me off. Although this is difficult because I lack the nuances that would enable it to be a tactful discussion of my problems with the current structure of the class. I mean, I do LIKE ADHD Sabeomnim, I just don't like his teaching style. At all. However, I'll give him some more time because with my test in a month and a half.

What else can I do?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dating a Korean Guy in Korea.

Min Gi and I will celebrate our anniversary on Sunday--our first date was one whole year ago!

A little bit ago, The Metropolitician posted an interesting and insightful blog about some of the more obscure cultural issues he's faced when dating Korean women. Although my personal experiences with relationships with Korean men is limited to Min Gi, I have numerous close female friends in relationships with (or formerly in relationships with) Korean men while living in Korea or other places in the world. Also, prior to dating my lovely boyfriend, I did go on dates with several different men in Korea, from which I learned a lot.

One caveat: Before I offer you my observations, please note that I am from the U.S. and most of the foreign woman/Korean man relationships I've had personal contact with involve women from western countries--usually white or ethnic Korean. And all of them are love-based relationships. Most international couples/marriages with Korean men involve women from China and southeast Asian countries and suffer a number of other problems regarding racism, unequal financial status of the countries, and an association with prostitution/mail-order brides, even when the relationship began as a romantic courtship. This makes me sad, and most of my advice will not be terribly helpful for women in that situation.

Ten things I've learned about dating Korean men. They are generalizations, and definitely don't apply to every single case, but this is my insight from personal experience and girl blab sessions, a la Sex and the City:

1. Men older than 30 are dating for marriage. This is not always true in Western countries, where the social pressure to be married before 35 is relaxed. Even men in their late twenties seem more serious about relationships than U.S. men of a comparable age. I had many men ask me, within about five minutes of meeting and flirting with me, my opinion of international marriage and/or how long I planned to stay in Korea. After Korean men hit 30, they will usually not get involved with someone who they don't see as a potential marriage partner, so they put a lot of weight on your answers to these questions. I found them uncomfortable and inappropriate coming from someone I just met, but over time I came to understand why they were being asked.

2. Most Korean men cannot or will not marry a foreign woman. This is especially true with first or only sons and men in their late twenties who have a good job and are from wealthier families (as they are considered top-pickin's by Korean standards, and their mothers will be a lot less open-minded because no one is ever good enough for their little prince, especially not some dirty foreign, girl who doesn't even know how to make 된장찌개!). There are some very unfortunate, general prejudices Koreans have about the purity of the Han race. These show up strongest when a young man foolishly falls in love with a non-Korean girl, as in the fifties it was fairly common for white folks to have a "I don't mind those black people, so long as my son/daughter doesn't bring one home" attitude. It's not right, and it's not acceptable. But ladies, do you really want to marry someone who's going to think those things about you?

Interesting note: If you combine #1 and #2 it leads to a corollary note that many Korean men, even if they are interested or smitten, will not ask you out or date you. Don't take this personally. The less-good ones might sleep with you a few times, but they will not make you their girlfriend.

3. If it gets serious, you must make nice with the family. Korean parents hold a much stronger sway over their childrens' futures than is typical in Western cultures. It is likely your man is already defying his family just by taking his relationship with you seriously enough to introduce you to them. Learn as much as you can about proper Korean etiquette and definitely learn some of the language if you have not done so before if you don't want to end up dumped by parental disapproval. The part of this that I'm still having trouble accepting is that this hold doesn't exactly end after marriage; Korean men are expected to help support their parents financially and emotionally once they are "settled," i.e. married and have a job. Effectively, if I marry Min Gi, I will already have a dependent: his mother.

4. Korean dating "rules" are different than your home country. Things that were especially difficult for me to understand and caused some problems early on: On most first dates, you bring along a girlfriend or else you seem easy. Asking a guy out (even as friends) is coming on very strong. An unmarried man still living with his mom in his 30s is not a "loser," he's normal. Most Korean men who haven't yet gone through military training are immature mama's boys. However in international relationships, you have to make up new rules or it just won't work.

5. Koreans are quick to forgive foreigners' cultural mistakes. Hence, you will not be expected to always act like a Korean girl or daughter-in-law. This is nice because trying to fill these roles could be a very huge burden for the women's liberation-minded Westerners. However, if you look Korean (i.e. are ethnically Korean or an adoptee) or can speak Korean well (especially if your relationship is conducted in Korean) this exemption does not always apply. It's funny because, your status as 외국인 can keep you at arm's length from the man you're dating or his family, and that's not a great thing, but being accepted into Korean society comes with big responsibilities.

6. You can't use the same markers of relationship progress you would in your home country. For example, he might not tell his family and friends about you for six months or even years, but it doesn't mean the same thing it would in your home country. Koreans just aren't open about any romantic relationships, even with family and close friends. For example, two members of my swing club seemed to be like a couple on our last MT, so I asked them if they were dating and how long. They'd been dating 10 months and were only just last month telling us about it. My co-teacher last year dated her husband for nearly 10 years before marrying him. Her parents didn't know about her relationship until about a year before they wed. "Secret relationships" are the norm here for about three-four months for friends, a year or more for family. Min Gi, while not hiding anything, refused to answer our friends' questions about whether or not we were dating for about three months. And my own questions for that matter, which was much more frustrating, at the time.

7. Be smart and do look for some evidence that he's serious about you. Honestly, some men are only looking for one thing, and Korean men are no different. Since you can't use your normal clues about his level of commitment, you must find new ones. Is he respectful? Does he go out in public with you? Does he listen to what you say and remember it later? Here's a tip: Look at how he treats you (ok, this is going to sound weird) when he's drunk. Korea is a country big on alcohol, and they have a saying about how people under the influence can't lie (they can, but in Korea they usually don't). Korean men in love get really sappy and lovey when intoxicated. This can be mildly annoying, but it's also a clue.

One helpful note: Don't automatically forgive all of the things he does that bother you because of "cultural differences." Just because it is "normal" in Korea for men to go out drinking every night and possibly visit dens of iniquity with their bosses doesn't mean you have to accept your man doing this. Be clear about your expectations for him and for yourself. He should do the same with you.

8. If he's in a serious relationship with a foreign woman, he's probably an atypical Korean. Being atypical in Korea is a lot more serious than it is in Western countries, as conformity is the golden rule. Make of this what you will. I love Min Gi's eccentricities (Min Gi Style!) and his different ways of thinking, but they are generally considered unattractive by Korean women. As is his age (Korean age 36), his current job situation, and the fact that his younger brother is already married. Personally, I think stuff like that is a silly basis on which to judge a potential romantic partner... but I'm not Korean.

9. Koreans are not used to talking about relationship/sexual history. You will not be sharing lists. As secretive as Korean men can be about current relationships, they are doubly or triply so about past ones. I believe that this is, in part, to protect the reputation of past girlfriends (as Koreans have very strict notions regarding the sexual purity of marriage-worthy women). Confronted with the Western openness, he might be uncertain how to proceed and end up lying to you because he thinks that's what you want to hear. Even if your guy is open about his past, there are some cultural differences about the acceptability of prostitution in Korea compared to the U.S. You might not want or need to know everything that happened during military service.

As a modern gal, you are probably very aware of how to protect your sexual health, but this could cause some initial problems. Unless your fellow has been with Western girls before, it's unlikely that he'll understand why you might demand that he wear a condom, ask him if he's been tested for STIs, or how the birth control pill works. Korean men and women, even when intimate, do not discuss these things with each other. It is important that you get comfortable with having to clear up the confusion.

10. Ok, this one might be controversial, but... Korean men are very attentive, thoughtful lovers, whatever your relationship status happens to be. Without getting into details, I have accounts (some my own) from women who were wives, girlfriends, "fuck buddies," one-night stands, and mistresses with Korean men. All have reported that the men are generally skilled lovers who also enjoy post-coitus snuggling that we women so adore. Some exceptions exist, obviously, but I have yet to hear about it. That said, please ladies do not assume that because he treats you like a queen the morning (or week) after that he is serious about you. He is simply grateful to have shared your bed and is man enough to express it. Refer to #7 for assistance with checking on your status with him.

Of course there are lots more things, but that's a pretty comprehensive list of the wisdom I've accumulated over the last year and half-plus I've been living in Korea. I will leave you with one final note:

* Most Korean men believe Western women are not attracted to them, so sometimes they won't make a move. So many guys I was interested in a little when I was single suddenly began flirting with me when I was officially "out" as a couple with Min Gi. Ridiculous, but true.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Grading... 16 journals for the gifted literature middle school students
+ 16 essays for the gifted writing high school students
+ 120 American culture class journals
+ 120 midterm tests
+ Starting two major projects (one done with William in the conversation classes, one for American culture class)

= A busy, stressful week for Diana.

I've felt almost like I'm a teacher back in the States again.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Back in the Groove.

The last few weeks, I've been inconsistent with my dancing. First there was my master's thesis (thankfully done) and then the celebration of it last weekend, so it's been a little while since I've been to swing.

Tonight was a great return. There were almost forty people out dancing tonight... wow!

The best part was that I've improved a bit. I'm one of the people now who other folks sitting on the sidelines watch and applaud for when I finish... a small accomplishment, but I'm a little proud of it. Yay for improvement.

Getting Diagnosed

Warning: Post may contain some scatological discussion. Read at your own risk.

I just had a huge health wake up call.

I was diagnosed with the beginning stages of ulcerative colitis, a nasty auto-immune, chronic disease that falls under the category of irritable bowel diseases (IBD).

Let's rewind. About a month and a half ago, I started noticing large amounts of mucus in my stool. I kept thinking "this is not normal," but otherwise, it wasn't affecting my life too much so I ignored it for a couple weeks. By then, I was having bowel movements that were almost entirely mucus and no stool. When I did finally have a bowel movement, it was painful and usually consisted of diarrhea. It was gross and weird and scary. Especially being in a foreign country. Finally, I made a doctor's appointment and went in for some testing. A few weeks after all the testing (including the most horrible experience with preparation for a colonoscopy EVER), the doctor reached the above conclusion. While there is still a small change it could be an infectious colitis (and I'm on antibiotics now just in case), it seems like this is something I'll have to deal with for the rest of my life.

After the initial shock wore off, I did some research. Turns out my slight depression from the last two months may be attributed to the onset of this disease, as depression is one of the symptoms. It's important that I prioritize stress reduction--as such, I've signed up for yoga on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, which I start tomorrow. Although diet is not a treatment for the disease (it can't reduce inflammation), it can alleviate symptoms, and obviously, a healthy diet is essential for dealing with any chronic condition.

So I'm now DELIGHTFUL to dine out with, since I have cut out:

* Meat (other than fish)--this one's been going on for years, though
* Dairy (no cheese, milk, yogurt, ice cream, or any other delicious thing)
* Chocolate and excessively sugary things
* Soda (goodbye Diet Coke addiction) and other caffeine (except I'm not cutting out tea entirely)
* Alcohol (same reason as caffeine--it's a diuretic)
* Deep fried foods (fries and fried shrimp are no more...)

I am trying to limit the amount of food I consume at one time, also, though eating something whenever I feel hungry (as it's really hard to judge how full I'll feel with such a different diet). My doctor also suggested giving up spicy food, but that would be almost impossible in Korea (plus I just love it too much--I couldn't bear a world without chocolate AND gochu!!!). However, I am no longer requesting that the Indian food place make me cry with my curry and skipping the raw peppers.

I've been doing this with decent success for about 5 days now and after the first two, my stools became almost normal and I had less pain when having a bowel movement. I'm not totally relieved, but I'm pleased with my success thus far.

Also, I've started a daily food journal with detailed descriptions of bowel movements, stomach feelings, and hunger pangs. I will spare you online readers of this, but I will note my fitness efforts in this blog and my weight as I track it.

Weight: 80kgs (for you Americans, that's 176lbs)
Fitness: School Field Trip--7 km walk through a mountain path
Food Summary: Generally healthy, though a bit too much at once at dinner--it's sitting like a lump in my stomach almost 3 hours after consumption. One sip of a special kind of makkoli (it had five flavors!).

Friday, May 8, 2009

Dirty, dirty streets of Korea...

"Wow, I really like your shoes," said my boss as we were on our way into the restaurant for lunch. She was admiring my red slipper-style beach shoes. "Where did you get them?"

"Vietnam. They were only $3."

"So cheap!"

"Yes, and real silk, too."


William and I are walking home from work later. All of a sudden, I'm not in my right shoe anymore.

They're broken. I was in shock. Last time shoes broke on me in Korea, I was wearing socks, so it wasn't a big deal. After suggesting I tie them up with string we found on the road, William tolerated my walking home with only one foot shod.

I would not recommend walking barefoot to anyone in Korea. Ever.

After less than ten minutes. It took me longer to wash off my foot than it did to walk home.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Yoga in the Morning.

Having quit the gym ages ago (well... allowed my membership to relapse), I've started craving a return to that kind of environment. Another teacher at my school has been going to a Tues/Thurs morning yoga class, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Apparently, I also can use the gym on weekends for free. Score!

This morning I dragged my sleepy head out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to arrive for the 6:00 class. I was so tired when I went, but it was AMAZING. I hadn't practiced yoga for about five years, so I'd forgotten how great it makes my body feel. I had more energy all day--this is awesome.

The instructor is rather peppy for so early in the morning, and it's more stretching than traditional yoga, but it's exactly what I need for now. That and starting taekwondo again in a couple hours is going to make my body so happy again.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

친목회 at Mungyeong Saejae.

Once again having the free time to do so, I'm studying Korean in full swing, so I'm trying to remember/recognize/recall the words I hear and learn in daily life. I was proud of myself for correctly guessing from context that 전통 (jeon tong) means "traditional." This means my blog will contain more hangeul than it previously did. Our apologies in advance to non-Korean readers. I'll try to make sure I'm still always in English.

Today I went with my co-workers on a 친목회 (chin mok hwoe, a friendship meeting or social gathering) to Mungyeong (문경), a small town north of Daegu, but still in the Gyeongsangbuk province (경상북도).

The town is famous for two things. First, it is the filming location for a historic drama. Second, it contains a historic mountain path with three gates, the 문경새재 과거 길, an important road connecting the province with Seoul by uniting the Han River with the main river in Gyeongsangbukdo. This path is a little less than 7 km from the first to the third gate, and this was our intended destination for a late-spring stroll and staff bonding session.

The third gate. Our first sign of the historic path.

After the students suffered through three finals, we all grabbed a quick lunch in the cafeteria and hopped onto some very luxurious buses for the two hour ride out to the town. Upon arrival, we hiked uphill for about thirty minutes to the third gate, which would be the beginning of our little venture (yes, that's the hike in addition to the 7km walk--my legs hurt). Everything was very green, beautiful, and peaceful.

All along the path, there ran a clear mountain stream. You can see how clear the water is in this picture.

The second gate, tucked away in a shady spot.

Finally we arrived at the fake village that's used as the drama set, only to find a tea bowl festival taking place. While walking for well over 7 km in peaceful serenity may make you want to avoid a crowded, dirty festival, it certainly makes a cup of tea welcoming.

Ladies in hanboks serve us lotus and green tea.

The first gate, through which you can see the festival, looking the worse for the wear--No thanks!

Dinner was at a tofu soup place with awesome pajeon. I stuffed myself silly and other teachers got drunk (inebriated, as I taught the tipsy English teachers, sloshed, tittled, soused, pickled, intoxicated, wasted, trashed... and so on). We did not arrive back home until just as taekwondo would be starting. So although I had planned to make tonight my grand return after the month I took off to complete the grad school stuff, I had to call Kwanjangnim and apologize profusely (much to the entertainment of my fellow teachers who got to listen to my bad phone Korean).

I spent most of the walk with William. It was nice to have a non-work-related conversation with him (though I guess you could say we have those often enough at work anyhow). Check out the rest of my photos in the album for some peace and tranquility:

Mungyeong Saejae

On another note, I've decided to start updating that "Foreigner" Fitness blog I started with Jen a bit ago. Don't know if she'll start, too, but good lord I need somewhere to talk about all the medical/health stuff I'm dealing with right now, but I don't want to get this blog all dirty with irrelevant scatological discussions. Check it out if you want to read about such things, but I highly suggest you don't. I wouldn't want to read about it, and I'm freaking LIVING it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Monday evening.

"Oh," says my friend Hee Jeong as we're getting ready to depart from The Coffee Bean (which I've learned has a fine selection of teas--yay to my non-dairy-consuming self) and go our separate ways. "What are you and your boyfriend doing tomorrow?"

"No plans yet."

"Do you want these tickets to see Cats? I got them from work, but I can't go."

"Sure! Where's the show?"

"Daegu Opera House. At 2 p.m." She hands me two tickets with the value of 100,000 won printed on each.

"Oh my. Are you sure you don't want them?" She assures me that she does not and tells me the seat is not yet assigned, so I'll have to present them at the box office. "Thank you so very much!"

And just like that my Children's Day holiday is planned.


The seats ended up being AMAZING. We were off to the left of the stage... in the FRONT ROW (Ok, sort of the front row. There was a section for VIPs in front of us that had three rows, but we had the leg room and entering/exiting actors passing by us that accompanies the front row!). I was all jittery and excited. I haven't been to live theater very often in Korea; it's always been one of my favorite things to do.

The whole thing was in Korean, so it's lucky I already knew this musical so well from my Broadway obsession in middle and high school. The dancers were amazing, and the singing beautiful. Sometimes when Korea takes another culture's art form, it focuses too much on the technical execution of it and not enough on the soul and power of the art, but in this case it worked alright because Cats doesn't have much of a plot. The only thing I was disappointed with was the lack of a live orchestra. Other than that, it was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

Min Gi said it was his first time in the Opera House. He was excited also, but for different reasons. Sometimes I wonder at how different our lives were growing up. Three decades ago in Korea is almost as distant a place as you can get from two decades ago in the suburbs of DC. Min Gi's country had only just pulled themselves out of war-starved poverty when he was born, and didn't become a dominant economic power until he was in middle or high school. Going to the theater wasn't just an option his family chose not to partake of--it wasn't possible. Whereas by high school, I had seen numerous productions at the Kennedy Center, Folger Shakespeare Library, and others. Hell, I was so in love with theater that at that time in my life I planned to be a professional stage designer.

Sometimes I think about how frivolous my life has been and feel guilty about it. That somehow all the power and privilege I was born to--being from an upper-middle class home, the daughter of two highly educated scientists, white, American--would have been wasted less on someone like Min Gi. Someone who would have appreciated it more as it was happening, who would have done something with it.

But then I think that the whole reason my parents worked as hard as they did (and their parents before them and so on) was to build a life (hell, to build a country) where I could lead a life of frivolity because I was finally free to choose whatever it is that I wanted to do. Even so, it wasn't until recently that I came to appreciate just how free I am. My parents didn't want me to become an artist (and in the end I didn't... although who knows whether this writing thing will pan out now that I have the time to devote to it). They wanted me to be a scientist. But in the end, they supported my decision, whatever it was.

And then I start to wonder if in the end, maybe Min Gi and I didn't grow up so differently after all. He has the mind and soul of an artist or a philosopher, but was never given the support to pursue that side of himself. Instead, he was encouraged to pursue the route of practicality and financial stability. Now he's floundering between who he should have been in his culture's eyes and who he should have been by his nature.

I love him for this, even though he sees it as a weakness. Perhaps he'll learn, as I did, to be comfortable and proud of who he is when he gets to see the way other countries operate. Maybe he won't feel so pressured by a society that tells him that at 35, he's a loser for not being married, with two kids, in a stable company job that works him 80 hours/week. Maybe not, but I really hope so.

I don't know the Korean verses, but I sure as hell have this soundtrack playing through my head this evening:

Daylight, I must wait for the sunrise.
I must think of a new life,
And I mustn't give in.
When the dawn comes tonight will be a memory too,
And a new day will begin.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Korea's Secret Island Paradise--Somaemuldo

Saturday morning, Min Gi and I hopped on a 30-minute ferry from Geoje-do to Somaemul-do (소매물도, literally "small out-water island"). This place is the most beautiful that I've visited in Korea. No contest. The rocky islands reminded me somewhat of Vietnam's Ha Long Bay (though the rock formations were a little less steep).

When we first arrived, we were overwhelmed by the green of the trees and the blue of the water. Here, I've stolen Min Gi's cowboy hat to express my joy.

The island, though Min Gi had been informed otherwise and so we were carrying quite a bit with us, has a few small restaurants and pensions (in Korea this is like a vacation condo) and min baks clustered around the dock. From the dock, you can hike up the mountain to the other side of the mountain. Along the way, there are some interesting sites, such as an old one-room schoolhouse and an abandoned lookout post at the peak.

However, nothing is quite so breathtaking as looking down at the other side of the island, with a lighthouse (made famous by a commercial)

We hiked down the mountain and crossed the little bridge made out of stones that connects the smaller island with the lighthouse to the main island with the dock and mountain.

The water was shockingly clean and beautiful, even from really far above it.

Can you tell why I love this man? The view from the lighthouse. Notice to the left the stone bridge crossing and the solar energy panels that power the lighthouse.

Cowboy Min Gi is the same shape as the lighthouse. This was where we stopped for a nap in the sun. This was a stupid thing to do without sunscreen.

When we got back from the island around 3 p.m., we went to go check out some other tourist sites around Geoje, but it being a major holiday weekend, the lines were RIDICULOUS. We decided that we couldn't beat the day we'd had tomorrow, so we set out for Daegu. Unfortunately, rain turned the 3 hour ride into a 5 and a half hour odyssey (kudos to good driver Min Gi and our trusty navi system) thanks to traffic. We returned to Daegu exhausted, and I was sunburned so I had a headache. I crashed until about lunchtime the next day.

However, as Min Gi said, this was the best trip we've taken yet (and we've been on quite a few trips around Korea)! It bodes well for our travelling together in other situations, which is good because we have big plans for this summer.

Enjoy the rest of the pictures from the most beautiful spot in Korea:


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Geojedo Road Trip!

This weekend I have four days in a row off from school. Originally, Min Gi and I were going to go to Japan, but my money for that went to Saja's vet bills, so we decided to go to Korea's second largest island, Geoje (거제도 or Koje), which is accessible by car through two bridges from the small tourist town of Tongyeong (통영) or Masan (마산).

Usually, I'd plan this stuff out myself, but having been a little preoccupied the last few weeks, Min Gi took charge. Not only did he plan the whole trip, he even borrowed his brother's navigation system (a useful tool when road-tripping in unfamiliar territory) and bought snacks at HomePlus (the poor boy bought some of my favorite snacks that are now verboten, thanks to my lovely medical condition... poo to that!)

We left early Friday afternoon, thanks to finals at my school and a labor holiday at Min Gi's office job. After some minor detours, the navi system successfully got us to Geoje's Black Pearl Pebble Beach (학동 흑진주 몽돌해변/학동몽돌해수육장), a beautiful little tourist spot to spend the evening.

Here we are at the beach, happy as clams. Well maybe not the clams available for consumption. They wouldn't be so happy...

We wandered up and down the beach a bit, giddy on the ocean breeze and beautiful shorelines of Geoje. Min Gi asked some of the motels and min baks (민박) for their prices and also about how to get to our destination for the next day (next post!). Since it was a holiday weekend and beach front area, finding reasonable accommodation was no easy task, but eventually Min Gi found a cheap little room at a small min bak off the beaten path, but still less than a five minute walk to the beach for 30,000 won. Not the greatest of facilities, but it was reasonably clean and less than half of the cost at the other places we'd been quoted.

Down the beach, we found some washed up starfish. They looked so sad.

On our walk back to the car to move our stuff to the min bak, we saw some tourists setting off fireworks.

Turns out Min Gi is quite the talented travel planner! He even looked up what the food specialty was for Geoje. See, each town in Korea has some kind of food specialty (Daegu's is apples... go figure). The island of Geoje is famous for Meongge Bibimbab (멍게비빔밥). I've had bibimbap lots of times. It's a delicious vegetable and mixed rice dish with some spicy hot pepper sauce, so I asked Min Gi what Meongge was; at first, he translated it as some kind of crab (which has the 게 sound in it, so I thought that sounded fine to me). After we ordered it, I suddenly realized I hadn't seen any crabs in the tanks. What I had seen was lots and lots of this ugly red thing from the sea that looks so unappetizing it needs a whole other category. So I asked him if the red things were Meongge. He confirmed this, and we looked it up in his handphone dictionary. Sea squirts. I'm about to eat raw sea squirts.

Sea Squirts (멍게) in a tank, waiting to be eaten.

Since we'd already ordered, I decided to buck up and be a good sport. In all honesty, the food was delicious. The bibimbap had apples in it and the spicy sauce tasted like the kind Koreans use with other raw fish. I just couldn't get over the fact that I was eating those creatures pictured above. So I could only finish half my bowl. Min Gi happily finished my other half, of course, and I snacked on some crackers later when I got hungry again.

We woke up very early the next morning, donned our cowboy (Min Gi) and communist (me) hats, and set out for the ferry harbor that would take us to our next destination. We ended up being too early for the ferry (Min Gi had looked up the times, but they were the summer times), so we wandered around a little in the harbor.

These cuties were in a dilapidated house and their mom was in an old broken down bathroom. I wanted to kidnap them all.

Check out all of our Geoje photos:


And get ready for the next installment, featuring an island paradise off the southern coast of Korea...


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