Monday, July 27, 2009

Arrived/DC Memorials Near the Mall

Yes, we have safely arrived in America, after a difficult 22+ hour day of travel and then delicious Mexican food, and are enjoying the relaxing time in my parents' nicely remodeled home. I will update more about family for another time.

Our first day in America, we drove down to La Plata, where I used to do community theater, to see the final performance of Port Tobacco Players' Sweeney Todd. The play was amazing--the special effects and choreography created a great background mood for standout performances from the actress playing Mrs. Lovett and the actor playing young Toby. All of the other cast members were wonderful as well. I know the director and the producer well and have worked with them before, so I had high expectations for this production, but they were definitely surpassed. Bravo to everyone involved!

I also got to say hi to many old friends and introduce them, if briefly, to Min Gi. I miss this group of people so very much; I often reflect on how much I miss doing theater work, but the truth is that it is working with such awesome folks that makes the theater stuff so fun. I'll definitely get involved again when I'm back in the U.S. to live.

After the show, we headed to Northern Virginia to meet Amanda and Good Man for Chinese food. It was a great time, but too bad Amanda has to start teaching again, so she can't come play during weekdays. However, we did convince Good Man to join us the next day for shenanigans on the National Mall.


This morning, Min Gi and I headed down to the National Mall to meet Good Man and Peter, a friend of mine from high school. We started out at the Air and Space Museum, which is still pretty cool, even if some of the exhibits are now slightly outdated.

Models of Missiles--from an exhibit on the role of the military in space and flight development.

In another note, the Smithsonian Institute has sold out--the cafeteria now features overpriced McDonald's instead of overpriced generic Smithsonian cafeteria food. How tragic. We moved on to the memorials after checking out exhibits on aerial photography, the Wright Brothers, and the role of computers in space and flight technology.

Peter and I at the (relatively) new World War II Memorial, with the Washington Monument in the background.

Today was the anniversary of the armistice for the end (sort of) of the Korean war, so all the flags at the memorial sites were at half-mast, and the Korean War Memorial was decorated with funerary bouquets from the various embassies whose soldiers participated (and died) in the war effort on behalf of the UN.

Korean Soldiers in Rain Gear

Reflected Min Gi at the Korean War Memorial, carved with the faces of soldiers.

Finally, we worked our way around the reflecting pool, past the tidal basin to the Lincoln Monument, the Vietnam Memorial, and the White House (from a distance).

Vietnam War Memorial

After that, we walked up towards Metro Center to find a bar for a happy hour toast to our day's adventure. Good times and good fun for everybody! Check out the rest of the day's photos:

DC Memorials Near the Mall

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Today, I love Korea.

On Wednesday, I had another appointment at Dongsan Hospital (because that's where the gastroenterologist lives) for my meds and such. I went a little early so I could stop by the dental clinic across the street, Seomun, for a cleaning.

Last time I went to the dentist in Korea, it was pretty awful. The guy had prehistoric equipment and while he scrubbed quite thoroughly before checking me out, he did not use rubber gloves while brutalizing my teeth. My gums developed sores for about three weeks following my appointment with this man. Needless to say, I've been terrified to return to a dentist since then.

However, Seomun clinic is clean, the receptionists and hygienists, while unable to speak a word of English, are super friendly and efficient. I was in and out in under 60 minutes. Also, since fear had kept me away for a long time, they wanted to do a second procedure in a week, but said it was ok to come when I got back from America. Furthermore, this follow up cleaning would be FREE (included in the 60,000 won fee--that's less than $50). Rock on, you awesome dentists. Also, one of the guys spoke some Spanish. I understand Spanish, but having studied so much Korean I can no longer speak it--it comes out in Korean word order (Yo espanol tres bien hablo... See? Just BAD).

So after my positive experience at this dentist, I went over to the hospital's international clinic for my appointment. The translators and doctors there are getting to know me all too well... Anyhow, after a lovely appointment where my doc declared my disease "in remission" (yay!), I went to get my prescription from the pharmacy next to the hospital.

There was a problem. The pharmacy (also not English speaking) said I needed to go back to the hospital. Something about health insurance. I can barely understand health insurance stuff when it's in perfect English, so I went back to the hospital, slightly annoyed with the pharmacist.

However, I should not have been annoyed because the pharmacist was looking out for me. Turns out that after a few months with this chronic disease, I have to register my diagnosis with the Korean government to continue to receive benefits for my doc appointments and medications. So one more trip to my GI (who I LOVE because he said it was his fault, even though I didn't say that... if you know anything about Korean doctor culture, you know this makes him more rare than raw sushi!), and I've been registered as having a "rare disease." Yay Korean government! Yay socialized medicine! Yay doctor and pharmacist!

The only weird thing was the translator at the international clinic made some crack about how "my country is paying for you," which smacked of bitterness.

I kept it light and responded, "Well, I work pretty hard for your country, so I always understood it was part of the deal."

She laughed, which is good, but still. Being an immigrant in a nationalistic country does sometimes blow (sympathy with those back in the U.S.).

Thank you, Korea!

Boryeong Mud Festival

Friday July 10, Min Gi came over after work and picked me up for our road trip to the west coast of Korea for the festival in Korea most popular with foreigners in this country: The Mud Festival at Daecheon beach in Boryeong.

Min Gi claims I was trying to pose with an "S-line"

Min Gi all mudded up.

Highlights of the trip were:
-the beach, which reminded me of the gulf coast side of Florida
-the food (shellfish bake, 조개구이)
-the (affordable) motel we found the first night before the crowds arrived that had a whirlpool bath
-the mud slide
-camping out of the car
-the crazy wind and rain that cancelled Sunday's activities
-fireworks in the monsoon
-running into Jennifer and husband

Dining out of the back of the car... where we also slept on Saturday night.

Check out a few more photos of the silliness:

Boryeong Mud Festival

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I'm going home...

Well... but let's hope I don't end up like Tim Curry's character did after he sang that song--betrayed by his lieutenant transvestite (who, it turns out, was having an incestuous and kinky relationship with his sister's elbows) before having his self-created true love murdered as he climbed a flimsy RKO set.

On the home front, I will be in America (mostly based in the Washington, DC area) from July 25 to August 17 (arriving back in Korea on August 18). I'm very excited to see family and friends and especially to introduce Min Gi to my culture and the people I love. However, preparing for my first real visit "home" in almost two years has taken most of my time, both logistically and emotionally. It's weird, but it's like in college when I was always "going home"--both when I went to my parents' house and then when I went back to the dorms. Straddling two places at once that both feel like home is rough. I imagine, now that I'm marrying a Korean person, more than just because I lived here, when I go to a third country that's not America or Korea, I'll be living in three places at once.

Well, that's been occupying my brain a lot lately. I started this post a long time ago, but some other things have prevented me from blogging well.

If you read William's blog, then you can see why I've been so busy at work, as well as how I ended up in my second Korean news article about my teaching endeavors. The theater festival was a great success. I am so, so proud of these kids. They are unbelievably awesome. Check out my photos from the second and first grade festivals, held over two days:

English Theater Festival at 외고.

The only unfortunate thing was that it made our rude, lazy, power-hungry principal look good. I shouldn't bash my boss on my blog, but he can't understand it, even though he used to teach English. Also, I don't really cares what he thinks anymore because the man fell asleep and sent LOUD text messages during the entire student festival. He is rude and disrespectful to the other teachers at the school and especially to the students, and I know that culturally, as the oldest person in the school, he can treat us however he wants and it's ok, but WHAT AN ASS.

In my personal life, I've been busy taking care of wedding planning, contract renewal, and details for moving when I return to Korea after my trip. More details coming soon, including information about my swine flu "quarantine" and a recap of the windy, crazy Mud Festival.

Friday, July 3, 2009

YouTube and Talking to Birds

Well... I tried to include a small video of my kitties being silly onto YouTube for use in the blog when I was confronted by this evil message:

"본인확인제로 인해 한국 국가 설정시 동영상/댓글 업로드 기능을 자발적으로 비활성화합니다.
We have voluntarily disabled this functionality on because of the Korean real-name verification law."

Holy crap! You see last year, in response to the suicide of actress Choi Jin-sil, the South Korean government thought that cracking down on netizens ("net-citizens") who left cruel comments about her that supposedly pushed her over the edge would prevent suicide. (Because of course mean comments are the LEADING cause of suicide--not mental health problems and health care accessibility, no...). They thought people would be less inclined to be net bullies if they have to sign their real name to their comments. So they passed a real-name verification law.

Anyhow... I seem to be able to get around it by setting my location to "Worldwide" instead of "South Korea"

So I bring you Princess, talking to the birds:

Perhaps she is trying to learn Korean, and got confused...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Will there be "fireworks"?

There is some debate about whether North Korea's latest plan to piss off Obama and draw attention to the recent appointment of Kim Jong Il's third son as his planned successor involves launching rockets at Hawaii on the 4th of July. You can read about it here. The U.S. seems to be taking this as a strongly credible threat and beefing up security on the islands, although South Korea's military has seen no evidence of the missile preparations to date.

Once again, the general populace of South Korea remains completely unperturbed, despite escalating tensions and provoking actions and statements from their brothers to the North since Lee Myung-bak took office a year and a half ago. For once, I agree with them regarding this threat. First of all, it's not against mainland South Korea and instead focused on a U.S. soil attack, so there's no real reason for concern here. Second, the lack of activity (unlike the last missile launch) seems like it will either not happen or be rushed and fail. Finally, I may be growing desensitized--perhaps I'm starting to understand how if you grow up in a country under constant threat of attack you might not pay attention, even when that attack seems slightly more likely today than it did yesterday.

That said, I won't allow my apathy prevent me from hoping that indeed the "threat" proves to be as much of a joke as I think it will be for the sake of those in Hawaii (or any island nation in between should the missile fail to reach its intended target but still cause damages). Let's all hope for the same.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What Korea has given me...

Two years ago, I was wracked with anxiety about my plans to move half way around the world to a country I knew next to nothing about, leaving a career (and hobbies and a volunteer position) I loved and family and friends who were awesome. Living abroad has been a lifelong dream of mine (I grew up hearing stories of my parents' time in Ecuador with the Peace Corps), but I'd always been too afraid to do it. I am *so* glad I did.

Korea has given me...

--greater acceptance, and (more surprisingly and amazingly) even admiration, of myself.
--an understanding of the culturally determined parts of my head and the ability to let go of the ones I don't particularly care for.
--a (future) husband!
--patience, especially with transportation issues and difficult communication issues at the workplace.
--greater trust in the good of humanity.
--more appreciation of interdependence and community and the need to foster it.
--an increased thirst for adventure.
--a passion for taekwondo and swing dance (ironically, an art originating in my native land).
--a relativistic understanding of "exotic."
--a greater tolerance for situations requiring me to be outgoing, and the subsequent understanding that I, too, can be charming and win friends easily if I so desire.
--appreciation for the American education system as fostering creativity and independence.
--the ability to describe a person's face without relying on color (of eyes, hair, skin, etc.).
--an addiction to kimchi not likely to be overcome in the future.
--the chance to feel what's it's like to be a minority (albeit a relatively favored minority, but unlike PG county where I was also a minority, the power structure here is not my culture/race).
--a firm belief that should the young, beautiful (and unfortunately superficial) women of Korea could learn to harness the overwhelming power and wisdom of the ajumma from a younger (and perhaps more fashionable) age, they would rule the universe.
--a belief that I can do anything I want. I mean anything. Seriously, it's like I'm a second grader again.

...and about a thousand other things I can never hope to repay.

Sure... there have been downsides. Missing my sister's last year of high school and other markers of her passage to adulthood has been the hardest. Not being there for my dad and (now) my mom as they suffered from health issues is a very close second.

But choosing to come here is almost certainly in the top-five for "good decisions" I've made.

Thank you, 대한민국.


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