Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blog Launch: Feminist Marriage

This is my 500th blog post on Going Places, and what a journey it has been! To celebrate, I'm announcing the launch of my new blog, Feminist Marriage.

I have been thinking long and hard about my writing here at Going Places, which was started largely as a travel blog to document my experiences in Korea as an expat. It has become much more than that to me, covering not only my life and travels in Korea and beyond, but also my professional development as a teacher abroad, my entire relationship and marriage to my wonderful husband, and my entrance into two hobbies that have now become major outlets for fun.

Recently, I reflected on how I have grown through the blog over the last three years. I will continue it as a personal (and as often as possible, travel) blog even after I return to the U.S. However, I realize that many fewer people will be interested in my life after I return to my home country (an American in America is just too darned normal). While I hope many of you will continue to follow and support my writing (I have followed several of my favorite K-bloggers on their post-Korea journeys), I am anticipating my readership to take a nosedive come August.

I write (at least partially) because I want people to hear what I have to say. This blog has grown enough the last three years that I'm becoming spoiled--knowing that I'll have a regular daily audience inspires me to write more and more. I need to find something to keep me writing through the loss of my primary audience here. And so, I have decided to start blogging on two topics that are near and dear to my newlywed, fully empowered heart--feminism and marriage.

Feminist Marriage is brand new, so don't expect amazing things from it just yet. I'm still finding my voice for exploring and expressing my ideas about feminism and marriage. But if you are interested in gender equality, women's choices, and domestic felicity, I encourage you to follow along as I learn more about these topics and articulate my thoughts as I go.

I'm really excited about this project. It's my replacement for a Ph.D. in women's studies, but hopefully a lot more fun and interactive. Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wednesday Review #4

British travel writer Simon Winchester decides to visit Korea in the spring of 1987, just before the Seoul summer Olympics brought the infant democracy and rapidly growing economic powerhouse of Korea to the attention of the world. He follows the path (on foot)traversed by some unfortunate, shipwrecked and then imprisoned Dutch men in the seventeenth century from their wreck site on Jeju island, up along the western coast of the country and on to the Joseon capitol in Seoul. Captain Hendrik Hamel wrote of the sailors' struggles and travels, bringing the hermit kingdom to the attention of the Western world for the first time.

Winchester is an evocative writer. He possesses the talent of capturing characters and giving them an easy voice so that you feel as if you are traveling along with him. His research is also impressive, but effortlessly woven into the narrative. I was especially impressed with his passages on the Gwangju Massacre, as I had heard about the incident, but obviously it is much more distant in memory in 2010 than it would have been 23 years earlier.

This book shook me out of the blase attitude I had begun to effect regarding the country that I now call home. Although my life in Korea has become more "normal," he has revived my interest in travel around the countryside and given me some new places I want to visit. The book was a bit of a time capsule, considering that in 1987, South Korea still had a de facto military dictatorship and barbed wire fences along its coastline to prevent a Communist invasion. However, some things about Korean culture remain stubbornly and steadfastly the same.

The one thing I did not enjoy all that much were his (numerous) encounters with prostitutes. Although there is no denying the sex industry's ubiquitous presence in modern day Korea.

Winchester's Korea is one of drama, of melancholy, of change. It is an interesting, sentimental, and fairly balanced little portrait of one of my favorite cultures.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ko Chang: An Island Paradise

Unbelievably blue and warm, swimming in the water here was more like soaking in a giant, picturesque bathtub.

After we finished touring Phnom Penh, we hopped a bus that would take us through the land border between Cambodia and Thailand on the Gulf of Thailand all the way to the ferry and then on to the island of Ko Chang, Thailand. Ko Chang is rather large, with several beaches along the coast and lots of mountainous jungle and waterfalls in the center. We stayed in a tiny, rusted-out, dirt cheap bungalow with no air conditioning or hot water, located a five minute walk from Lonely Beach for four nights. It was perfect.

Lonely Beach, one of the less developed "backpacker" beaches on the island.

Ok, I did not plan to get a tattoo. Min Gi has wanted to get one for awhile now, although they are associated with gangsters in Korea and are illegal. (He's a rebel about this kind of stuff. Notice the earring.) But I have never been interested in cutting myself for decoration.

However, in Thailand they use a bamboo needle technique that the artist, a friendly fellow named One, swore to us was less painful than regular tats. Rather than cutting into your skin, they set the ink in by poking you about a thousand times with a very sharp needle. It doesn't hurt so much as tingle. Afterward, the area was a bit sore and swollen for like an hour, but we could go swimming later the same day, which I understand you cannot do with regular tattoos. Min Gi really wanted us to get tattoos together.

I decided that I wanted a moon design because my name, Diana, comes from the Roman goddess of the hunt and the moon (Artemis in Greece). I suggested Min Gi get a sun, but after working with our tattoo artist on my design, Min Gi liked it so much, he decided that he wanted the same one. We each got some Thai writing, mine reads "today" and his reads "Diana tomorrow" because of the song we danced to at the wedding.

Showing off our honey-moon moons. Get it? I know, I groan at my own puns, too.

One day, we rented a motorbike to navigate the winding, mountainous roads along the coast of the island. This is very dangerous. However, it was really fun, and Min Gi is an excellent driver. We made our way to one of the hiking paths for a waterfall and decided to check it out.

Min Gi approves of the waterfall.

However, by far the highlight of our time on the island was taking an all day snorkeling boat trip to some of the coral reefs on the surrounding islands. I had never been snorkeling before, but after a bit of adjusting to the pressure of the mask and breathing through your mouth, I was quickly swimming with the fish. I floated along with iridescent, neon, rainbow-colored fish, darting about giant black sea urchins and clams the size of my head. Absolutely incredible.

Jumping off the second story of the tour boat. I can fly!

I tried so hard not to get sunburn, but I forgot about the backs of my legs while facing down with the snorkel mask and got a pretty nasty burn that faded to a tan you can still see, one month later. Min Gi got burned because he foolishly thought his browner complexion would protect him. He underestimated the power of the sun that close to the equator.

All in all, this was the most relaxing portion of our trip, and the most beautiful views of nature. I would definitely return here for another round in the future:

Ko Chang

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jack of All Trades

My husband is on a mission to find out what his true passion is.

After being a computer programmer for a contracting company to Samsung (and getting fed up with the extensive hours and Korean work culture) and then owning his own networking/computer repair business until the world economic crisis dried up contracts, he's decided he no longer wants to do anything with computers for his career. For awhile, he thought he might want to own a bar or restaurant, so he had taken a job as a bartender and that's how I met him, but he's since realized that it's a pretty unhealthy lifestyle. About a year ago, he happened into a nine month contract as a temp for the Department of Labor which brought him a steady salary doing data entry and site visits, but he quit that job so he could take enough time off for the wedding preparations and then our honeymoon.

Although he is now picking up odd jobs with friends, this has left him with a lot of free time. He has started filling it with new hobbies.

One day I came home and was greeted with the question, "What do you think about wire art?"

"Wire art?"

"Yes." He shows me some pictures online. "I want to learn how to make it. I ordered a book about it!"

"Sounds great, honey."

A week later, I find Min Gi on the floor of our bedroom with beads and earring backs and pliers surrounding him. He is making jewelry. Over the next few weeks, he repairs my two broken necklaces and makes three new pairs of earrings for me. Thank you, honey.

"I found a soccer club that meets on Tuesday nights near our apartment!"

"Great, hon!" And let me kiss the knee you've scraped up.

Next, he begins visiting the library every day to read about American culture and study English. He even gets his first library card. He is very proud of this (and rightfully so... library cards are AWESOME). Let's read together, honey.

This weekend he announces that a mutual friend of ours has offered to teach him to play the guitar.

"But you don't have a guitar."

"He has an extra one that he will let me borrow."

After one lesson this Saturday, our house has been filled nonstop with the irregular strums of a beginning guitarist. You're doing so well for just two days, honey!

He hasn't found it quite yet, but at this rate, I'm pretty sure he'll figure out what it is that he truly loves doing. Or at least we'll both be entertained...

I love this man.

Sunday Health Progress 3

This was not a healthy week for me, ladies and gents. On Tuesday (my birthday no less), the yellow dust (황사) arrived and settled in for the next three days. William at dollop of solipsism has a nice post from last year, explaining what yellow dust is. In short, it is an evil, sulfurous devil-cloud from the deserts of China and Mongolia that blows across East Asia with the heavy winds. A while back, it wasn't such a big deal and folks in Korea and Japan hardly noticed it. But thanks to China's raping of the environment rapid development over the last 20 years, many of the natural barriers that used to contain the sands on the mainland are gone, and have been replaced with concrete and steel towers of doom that spew forth pollutants at an alarming rate and attach themselves to the particles that now pelt Korea, Japan, and even sometimes affect the weather across the Pacific.

I tried to limit my exposure, even skipping taekwondo, knowing that my immune system had only recently recovered. Alas, the freezing rain on Thursday did me in, and I came down with a nasty sore throat, completely lost my voice (so I missed work Friday), and have been seriously congested for the last two days. I even had to cancel the birthday party Min Gi and I had planned to host today... darn.

As such, my best intentions health-wise were shot to heck, and I've been subsisting on sweetened crackers (고소미), ramyeon, and gallons of water. I feel better today, now that my body has been able to rest a bit, but I'm not even going to bother with weighing in because my system is screwy (and my salt intake so unusually high), so it won't mean much.

This week, therefore I will get back to my goals I set last week, hopefully with greater success. I have been able to devote more focus and time to my writing this week by stopping watching television shows I just don't care about anymore (there are a few, like Lost, that inspire me creatively and so I just don't want to give them up--yet).

I have also been ignoring things I don't really care about and spending more time on the things I know I do. This feels amazingly freeing. I am very inspired. More than I have been in a few months. Enough so that I might actually be excited about moving back to the U.S. in some ways.

Here's hoping this week is better!

Good Reads from the Blogging World This Week #1

I've been reading a lot of good stuff on blogs, so I thought I'd share some of my favorites from this week with you!

First up, Jason of Kimchi Icecream posted about Cultural Taboos and Native English Teachers in South Korean Public Schools, which is a must-read for teachers new to Korea. He summarizes many of the things I've had to learn "the hard way," such as why work parties are important and how it is best not to be so confrontational, and includes some humorous vignettes of his own mistakes.

Next, Ask a Korean! scores big for directing my attention to two different stories of great interest to me: a humorous article about the history of famous Asian Men-Western Women couplings from another blog, Yellow Fever! The Definitive History of Asian Men Dating Outside Their Race, and a Wall Street Journal article about a swing tribute band that played at Japanese internment camps during World War 2, A Tribute Band Like No Other Swings to Remember Life Behind Barbed Wire.

Dating in Korea's Grace lays the smack down on white male expats who feel the need to aggressively object to Western women dating Korean men in A rant on you, Mr. White Guy. Rock on! Reminds me of my own trouble with that demographic back when I was dating.

In non-Korea-related blogs, Everett Bogue who writes a minimalist living blog, Far Beyond the Stars, wrote some great advice about making money from blogging, The Simple Guide to Making Money Online. While I don't really intend to make money off Going Places, I am interested in using my blog as a platform for launching my writing career in other ways and his suggestions are quite useful for that purpose as well.

Share in the online love!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Wedding Ceremony

Yes, I realize this is more than two months after the fact. Sorry.

Our swing dance club, Asurajang (아수라장--it means "messy place" in Korean), was the site of our ceremony and buffet. The lighting is just awful, but our friend Juno managed a few decent photos:

Of course, the photo session at the nearby Buddhist Temple during the day by our friend Julian turned out much better.

We had a 25-minute, completely bilingual/bicultural ceremony. Our Aussie friend Leah and Korean friend Hayoung serving as bilingual MCs. The ceremony consisted of a dance performance by my sister to Leona Lewis's "Bleeding Love", a speech from each of our younger brothers that left us a bit weepy, a bowing ceremony to my parents and Min Gi's mother and cousin (the oldest male relative), reading our vows (written by me, translated by Ju-ick) to each other in Korean and English, and then a dance performance from Min Gi and I to "I Love You More Today Than Yesterday," choreographed by our friend Gong-Bi.

After the Korean buffet dinner (which was cheaper catered at the club than a less yummy meal would have been at a wedding hall), there was a swing dance party on one floor, and drinking/toasting relatives on the buffet floor. Min Gi and I only lasted until about 10 p.m., but good times were had by all.

We got to share our day with so many friends and family members that although it seemed over so quickly (compared to the amount of time we spent planning), it remains forever in our memories and hearts. I cannot thank our guests, family, and friends enough--who all supported us in various ways, from assisting with the decorations to taking pictures, gratis, to showing my family around Daegu and Seoul. I'm still all misty and emotional just thinking about it.

Reflections on Genocide

Excavated mass graves at the Choeung Ek site. Each of the 29 graves contained remains of more than 100 bodies; the largest had almost 400.

Located 17 km outside of the capitol city, the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek have been preserved as a memorial to the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge against the Cambodian people between 1975 and 1979. Similar execution sites have been found throughout Cambodia containing the remains of more than 2 million people brutally executed by the Khmer Rouge. Min Gi and I visited in the early morning, just as the school children were biking to the nearby school.

The "Magic Tree" where Khmer Rouge soldiers would hang a radio to blast propaganda to drown out the cries and screams of the prisoners. There was also a "Killing Tree" where soldiers supposedly smashed infants' skulls against to save money on bullets.

A Buddhist stupa was constructed at the site to honor the dead. The stupa contains many of the remains found in the grave sites, including clothes and bones of the victims, preserved as a religious monument. There is also a small museum on the grounds which includes a small documentary movie theater and some of the weapons used for execution.

Clouds reflected in the tiered stupa

After spending about three hours walking around the grounds reflecting on the events that occurred at the site (we were the first ones there and there were very few tourists until just before we departed), we went into to town to see the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. The museum is housed in the former Khmer Rouge prison, S21, that served as a holding and torture center for people later executed at the Choeung Ek fields.

Classrooms converted into tiny brick holding cells.

The prison was a former secondary school. It was eerie to see how starkly the cheery, yellow-tiled, institutional floors contrasted with the preserved cells and torture devices and other exhibits. Of the estimated 17,000 prisoners, only 12 were known to have survived, four of whom are still alive today. One documentary at the museum had a former Khmer Rouge soldier and a former prisoner touring the site again, together, describing the torture techniques that were used.

An individual torture room for the most "dangerous" prisoners.

Overall, the morning was sobering and a little depressing. I learned a lot about Cambodia's dark and recent history, and I hope to learn more in the future. What's so unimaginable is that the United Nations allowed the Khmer Rouge oppressors to represent Cambodia's interests until 1993. Western countries' role in the atrocities in Cambodia (and other parts of Asia for that matter) make me ashamed of my country.

The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Genocide is impossible for me to understand.

It took a long time for me to accept that reality. When I was young, I thought (naively) that I could figure everything out if I just thought about it long enough. I wanted to believe that we could study these mistakes and learn from our collective historical mistakes. I believed in the power of humanity to improve itself. That "world peace" was possible--and even could be achieved within a lifetime.

I remember reading everything I could about the Holocaust and Stalin's regime to try to understand how people could participate in mass murder. I very quickly realized that the perpetrators of the worst violence were not all psychopaths. It's too easy to simply label the soldiers "evil"--they were often relatively normal, somewhat idealistic young men and women. Even the leaders maintained a distance from the worst of the atrocities, making it less immediate. And after awhile, one stops feeling like there is a big difference between 2,000,000 and 2,000,001 people killed.

I still don't know how to reconcile the existence of such evil with my understanding of people, who I believe generally act in ways they believe are good and right. No one is the villain of their own story. But then, how do these things still happen? I don't know. I really don't...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Phnom Penh: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Min Gi finds a missing piece of a temple outside the National Museum.

If Cambodia is a country of extremes, then Phnom Penh is an appropriate capitol. PP has some amazing riverside restaurants and awesome cultural sites (though they kind of pale in comparison to the Angkor sites), but it's also a very dirty city, full of in-your-face poverty. While dining, we were constantly approached by children selling things and beggars missing limbs. I had read about this before I came--often these children and disabled persons are serving an abusive boss who takes most of what tourists give them in exchange for (substandard) group housing. But bighearted Min Gi found it too difficult to resist giving something to the people. I do not begrudge him this, although I warned him we weren't really helping out that much and reinforcing the exploitation of these vulnerable populations.

The Royal Palace dominates the center of Phnom Penh's cityscape.

After our day of touring the sites in the city, we tried to visit the Apsara Arts Association, a nonprofit organization that trains street children in traditional Cambodian dance. However, when our tuktuk driver, Maak, took us out to the theater, they were closed until March! We were a bit disappointed, but then Maak suggested that we visit an orphanage instead. He took us to buy a 50 kg bag of rice for a donation, and we went to the National Action Culture Association (NACA) Orphanage to spend an hour or two with the children.

They were so eager to see us and perform some of the dances they were learning. The girls just loved touching my hair and skin and holding onto every available part of me. The boys fought each other to play rock, paper, scissors with Min Gi. Although it was a little strange visiting the orphanage as a "tourist" site, we felt much better after spending some time entertaining these very eager children. I did not feel comfortable taking pictures, since we were only spending one day there and not actually volunteering, but I won't ever forget those kids.

I encourage you all to consider donating or sponsoring a Cambodian orphan through the CamKids, the Cambodian Children's Charity. If you are going to be in Cambodia and would like to volunteer with NACA, you can e-mail the director: They are also looking for corporate sponsorship and to be picked up by a larger NGO if you are associated with such and looking for a good project.

An advertisement for the Korean pop group, SHINEE, performing in PP.

We had learned in Siem Reap that Korean tourism to Cambodia has increased dramatically in recent years. Apparently, the "Korean Wave" is real, but it only exists in SE Asia. Last year, in Vietnam, I heard a lot of WonderGirls. This year, Min Gi and I saw a bunch of young people dancing the "Sorry Sorry" dance in the main park in central PP. (Coincidentally, Brian has brought some Korea-Cambodia issues to light in his blog recently.)

I have elected to save the Killing Fields and Toul Sleng Genocide Museum for their own post. Until then, enjoy the rest of our pictures from our last few days in Cambodia:

Phnom Penh

Floating Village near Siem Reap

The Floating Village moves with the tides.

One afternoon, our tuktuk driver, Tee, offered to take us a few kilometers out of town to see the floating village on Tonle Sap, the largest lake in Southeast Asia. Originally founded by immigrants fleeing Vietnam during the war who were unable to afford land in Cambodia, the village is completely self-contained, with a school, church, basketball court, and alligator farm.

Yes, that's right. An alligator farm.

Unfortunately, pollution in the lake threatens the livelihood of these already impoverished fishermen, and tourism (and the begging of tourists) has become one of the few sources of income needed to sustain their way of life. Perhaps my awakened interest in simple living recently was partially inspired by what I saw in Southeast Asia--people living lives with so few of the amenities that we believe are "necessary" these days.

Children paddling home from school.

On the boatride to and from the village, T and the boat driver spoke with us about the economic situation in Cambodia. The government is viewed as very corrupt by the people. One example of their corruption is that they don't allow independent tour boat operators; they will only allow certain companies (who probably bribe the government officials in return for huge kickbacks) to operate the boats and while they collect a huge fee from the tourists, the boat operators make a pittance.

To see the rest of the pictures along with some I took from around the town of Siem Reap, click here:

Floating Village Tour and Around Siem Reap

It would not be until we got to Phnom Penh that we would understand how recent and deep the wound the Khmer Rouge cut through the heart of this beautiful, once-supreme Khmer kingdom of Cambodia truly was. I wonder how long until she can recover and when my country, the U.S.A., will recognize its own horrific contributions to the nightmares that people living in Southeast Asia still remember...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Visiting Pohang with the In-Laws

Look at my snazzy new facebook and tweet buttons. Yay! Anyhow, on with my story...

On Sunday, the weather was cold and windy, but quite beautiful. Min Gi and I joined his family and went out to Pohang, a small seaside industrial town.

We ate giant crabs (대게). Expensive (what you see here was 150,000 won for the five of us), but very delicious.

Then we drove to the easternmost point on the Korean peninsula, Homigot (호미곶), where a giant hand sticks out of the sea and another out of the plaza near the lighthouse.

I will defeat you, giant sea-hand!


Then, Min Gi and I went hiking on Waryong, a small mountain park behind our apartment building. (I also forgot my camera, so all of these were taken on his phone camera... ha!)

Enjoying the view.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Yesterday was my birthday!

My birthday present to myself was to purchase a domain server for my blog. Please update your blogrolls/bookmarks/subscriptions to reflect the new address:

I also got:
1) A check long owed me from the State of Maryland for unclaimed property.
2) A pretty earring/necklace set from Min Gi.
3) A pedometer (I had asked for one) from Min Gi.
4) Two pairs of stockings from Ms. Lim.
5) Vietnamese coffee filter from William.
6) Information about a possible job lead that would be very, very exciting for me.
7) A bajillion facebook "Happy Birthday" wishes (thanks guys).
8) A twitter account.

Thanks everyone!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Last Day of Angkor Temples

On day three of the honeymoon, we rode the tuktuk a bit out from the main temple sites to see Banteay Srei (the women's temple--so called for its superior, finely detailed artwork) and one other temple. We also stopped by the Cambodia Landmine Museum, founded by a man called Akira who was once a boy soldier for the Khmer Rouge but now spends his time assisting the Cambodian government in de-mining Cambodia. It was our first taste of the more tragic recent history of a country once so glorious as to produce these beautiful sites:

Angkor Wat: Outlying Temples and Landmine Museum

The Landmine Museum also runs an orphanage. We met a retired American couple who have been volunteering with Akira for the last two years. The man does outreach, education about mines, and fundraising, while his wife teaches English at the orphans' school. Their work and Akira's story were very sobering, but very inspiring. We ended up donating a bit to the museum's various de-mining and orphan assistance programs.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My True Loves (Sunday Health #2)

I've been a little unfocused this week. Lately, I've become obsessed with simple living and minimalist blogs (I will be doing a review post of my favorites soon). I think it's because I'm nervous as heck about the cost of living in the Washington, DC area coupled with school district budget cuts which slash my chances of finding a good job when I return home. Anyhow, they've convinced me to take the plunge and make some steps towards minimalism, which actually ties in nicely to my new focus on health.

One of the first things any and all minimalism practitioners will tell you is that you have to focus on the things you truly love, your passions, and then cut out everything else that is unnecessary. It sounds simple, but I'm a dabbler. Actually if I could cheat and say "Engaging in lots of different things," I would, but I know that's too vague for this activity. It took me the better part of an hour to pare down my many hobbies/interests to my five true loves (and it required me to make a list of 6-10 strong likes that I will allow myself to do if all of the first five areas in my life are completely fulfilled at that moment--or as part of fulfilling one of the five true passions). Here are my five:

1) Spending quality time with my loved ones (Min Gi, my family, certain friends who are practically family).
2) Maximizing my health (includes cooking, exercise, and proper rest).
3) Teaching (I love it, and it's my career that will support our family in the years to come).
4) Writing (I can't not write. I've tried--it makes me anxious. But more than that, I really want to write books one day and if I don't make this the priority it really should be in my life right now, I'll never do that).
5) Reading high-quality material (It's my go-to entertainment. I include here both books and online reading--though I am trimming the latter category significantly because some of what I read online is not really fulfilling).

That's it. Those are really my five true loves. My #6-10 cheating back-up "lusts" are:

6) Travel
7) Theater
8) Volunteering
9) Dance
10) Language study (especially Korean)

Here's the thing... I knew these before (everyone with a touch of self-awareness knows their passions without having to think too much about it), but it surprised me when I realized how much I really love exercising and cooking healthy meals. I thought it was just something I did because I was supposed to, but no... I really am happiest when I am being physically active and eating delicious vegetables. Currently, taekwondo is my favorite way to be active, but I also like other movement (most notably hiking, swimming, and dancing). This is kind of shocking for someone who never did any sports in middle or high school.

What's more... I realized that I absolutely do not prioritize my life around the things that make me happiest and most fulfilled. I mean, sure, I think about these things nonstop, but when it comes down to the daily grind of choices I make all the time, I often choose a mindless or pointless activity, such as watching TV, getting caught up in the politics/ridiculousness of a situation over which I have no control, or reading crappy things on the internet that piss me off rather than really interest me, instead of one of my favorite things. So both of my health goals/habits to change this week are rooted in pursuing simplicity and embracing minimalism. They are: 1) to spend as much time as possible pursuing the five passions and start cutting out everything else and 2) to clean, organize and trim my possessions down to less STUFF getting in the way. (And continuing with my previous goals, all of which are going very well, and have resulted in another 0.5kg/1lb loss as well as a peaceful, happy state of mind).

I think pursuing #1 is about little things--the choices we make every moment. For example, walking to the subway instead of taking the bus lets me get more exercise and read (reading on the bus is impossible, on the subway--it's easy); choosing to go to swing dance only when Min Gi or other good friends do because that means I'm spending time with him and exercising more; writing in my blog instead of watching a downloaded TV show.

Today I managed to do this very well. I spent the day with Min Gi's family in Pohang. When we got home, I was tired, but rather than get on my computer and watch Season 3 of Ugly Betty or read a blog I hate (yes, I do this), I suggested to my husband that we go for a hike on the mountain behind our house. We were both thrilled! And I was feeling tired before the hike and wanted to go out for dinner and blow the progress I'd been making on being healthy, but the mountain air re energized me (as did the good conversation,) and we decided instead to have an omurice cooking "contest" for dinner (each of us prepare an omurice, a Korean dish that wraps vegetable fried rice in an omelet, in our own styles and then enjoy the results together--teasing each other about who did a better job). It was wonderful (both the food and the company). And we may have developed a new Sunday ritual for us. Bonus!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

How is "married life"?

Last night Min Gi and I sat down and spent two hours talking about budgeting, financial goals, monthly expenditures, assets, and debts. And it was so much FUN. I didn't expect that. Money makes me extremely nervous--a bad habit I picked up from my dad, who I am more like than I care to admit in good ways and bad. I have been terrified about the idea of merging our finances and nervous about relinquishing control of my independent financial life, but you know what? Being married makes this stuff more exciting. You can talk about anything and everything you want to do, and with the power of two people, you can achieve it even faster!

I've been married now for a little over two months--a tiny blip in the lifetime that I plan to spend with my husband. However, Koreans seem to love asking, "How is married life?" I answer the question in a different way every time, but always prefaced with a "Great!"

Really... I love being married to Min Gi. I thought I would secretly hate it. That somehow the feminist in me would feel subjugated and dimmed by my participating in the institution. I think some of this is assuaged by the fact that I am the prime "breadwinner" (although I despise that term), and will likely continue to be so throughout our relationship because I have an advanced degree and a career.

Perhaps, if I had married the wrong person I would feel more confined and constrained by the idea of marriage. But I was a little lucky (in meeting such a great guy) and very smart (in choosing to be with him). We have so much fun together just talking and dancing and sharing our life that it would be kind of sickening for an outsider to witness. So many times I've wanted to post little "He did/said this today" posts, but I've never been so gushy before about someone. It's ridiculous.

I think my co-workers and students who ask are expecting a different answer. Most female newlyweds in Korea are deeply conflicted. They are happy with their newly gained status, but struggle to adjust to living outside their family's home for the first time. Often, they don't know their fiance that well (people my age date about four months before wedding), so starting to live together is a huge shock. Furthermore the pressure to make babies starts from day one, but young couples are often living with the groom's parents, making the necessary privacy to make babies a bit difficult to come by.

I admit, I get a little kick out of shattering their preconceived notions of wedded misery. "Of course my husband does the dishes--I cook!" "Yes, he cleans most of the house because I work all day and right now he's only part time." "In America, he will probably be a stay at home dad." You'd think in a society as gender-role conservative as Korea, where women are prized for their beauty and men for their wallets, that such statements would earn pity from other women. But really, they all stew with envy.

And tonight Min Gi came home after swing dance (I couldn't go because of busy testing at work--boo!) and announced the mother of all things husbands can say in Korea that women dream of hearing:

"I think I want to give up drinking."

Can't wait to share that one with my co-workers and watch them turn positively green. (Don't worry... I convinced Min Gi that all he needs to do is to learn to control his drinking in a way that makes him happy... like only drinking two drinks when you go out with friends. I'm not the fun police.)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sunday Health Progress

Many of you who read this blog or who know me from real life know that I have long struggled with my weight and had many health issues over the years, most recently being diagnosed with the chronic autoimmune disease ulcerative colitis last May, for which I was hospitalized in October. The last year and a half, a lot of things have happened to me and the people I love that have made more visceral and immediate something that I already knew: My health is the single most important responsibility I have.

Health is a priori for living a good, fulfilling, and happy life. You cannot do anything else really well--your relationships, your job, your passions--without it. When I wrote my wedding vows (which I will post when I write more about the wedding, I promise), I was thinking foremost about health when I made one of them "I choose to take care of myself and my responsibilities, so that I can take care of you and our family."

This is radically different thinking than how I was raised. In my family, we tend to take care of others to the detriment of ourselves. Both of my parents work hard and are extremely generous, and I love them so much for that example. But sometimes I think my brother and I have been also instructed that thinking of (and caring for) others is more important than caring for yourself. I still believe that. However, the last few years have made it clear to me that you cannot really care for others if you are not in at least reasonable shape yourself. (This thinking extends to more areas than just physical health--it also applies to mental health, financial solvency, and teaching--which is my chosen profession).

Now that I am married, I am responsible to my husband for many things (keeping our household going, communicating in loving ways, not sleeping with other guys--you know, the basics). And while I think my 15 year old self would have found this notion ridiculous, I believe that caring for my health is one of the most important. Furthermore, we recently decided that later this year, we will start trying to have a family. Pregnancy scares the crap out of me--mostly because I know that my current health habits are not good enough for the future child I hope to house in my womb and then raise with my husband. But these two factors are combining to make me get serious about changing my habits in a permanent way to maximize my own health.

Oh, irony. That I have to think of how my health impacts others in order to make it a priority for myself. However, so far, these things have been a far more powerful motivator for me than vanity.

I'm doing it a bit different this time. For one thing, although weight loss is a goal, because my being overweight is negatively impacting my health, it's not the only or even the most important part of my health journey. My goals are to be alive long enough to enjoy my life with Min Gi. To be active enough to keep up with my kids. To be healthy enough to have time and focus for my writing and my career (I have used too many sick days of necessity). To have a strong enough body to support a child and give birth without too many complications. To partake of the physical activities that my husband and I enjoy doing together (get your minds out of the gutter, folks--I mean dancing, hiking, swimming, traveling, running, playing, skiing... things like that).

To accomplish these goals I know that I have to do three main things: 1) manage my disease 2) achieve and maintain a healthy weight--for my height, age, and body type I have set a goal of 64 kgs (141 lbs), which would put me at a BMI of 21.5 and 3) increase and sustain my level of fitness--I was happiest when I was active for at least 10 hours a week, half of which were real workouts at TKD, the other half coming from activities like dancing and hiking, that I enjoy.

To that end, I'm focusing on changing 2-3 habits each week. In the past, I would try to change everything all at once. Then when I (inevitably) was unsuccessful with one thing or wouldn't see progress fast enough, I allowed myself to give up on ALL of my health goals. This doesn't work. I want a change in lifestyle here, not just losing a few pounds. So far, it's working!

I began after getting back from the honeymoon with (1) giving up soda (I usually drank 3-4 servings of diet coke each day for most of my life) and replacing it with a cup or two of green tea in the morning, (2) eating food outside the home rarely, and (3) resuming nightly taekwondo, this time with An Il, my old studio and Sa Beom Nim. I'm doing fabulously with #1. I have eaten out only three times since returning to Korea (not bad for a restaurant-addict like myself) and discovering that I really like cooking at home every day. This has required more planning, creativity, and flexibility than I realized (such as running to the store in the morning when I don't have soy milk for my cereal and planning which vegetables will work with the ones I already have in the fridge), but it's been worth it. As for #3, I had a mild flare up of the UC and a huge foot blister that interfered with my resuming, but I am committed. The four times I've gone in the last two weeks have left me feeling AMAZING and the commute by subway is not nearly as bad as I feared it might be, especially because I can read.

This week, I continued my three previous resolutions and added (1) starting to track my weight and (2) getting enough sleep every night. Last Sunday, I weighed in at 82.5 kgs (179 lbs). It's hard not to get emotional about weight, but I've been trying to see it as one measure of my overall health. That's helping. And as for #2, I've been pretty good about getting into bed between 11 and 12 and waking up at 7 most days. I shut off the computer (with it's many downloaded episodes of Ugly Betty and Lost) and read until I fall asleep, usually pretty quickly. I can feel the difference regular rest makes for my body. I have more energy and patience. I can concentrate longer on what I'm doing (hence why the writing has resumed on the blog), and I'm happier. The biggest challenge with this one so far is that Min Gi's schedule is slightly different than mine, since he doesn't work outside the home, and late at night he likes to start really good discussions or he wants to dance or cuddle with me. This is wonderful and delightful, but I have to be really firm about going to bed, or he'd keep me up until 2 every night.

Anyhow, I've decided to make Sundays on my blog a day to reflect on my health progress, set my new goals for the week, and talk about this process. It helps to be reflective in my health journey, and hopefully the accountability of blogging will give me a little extra push to meet my goals.

This week I want to (1) keep a food journal (this helps with both maintaining my disease and losing weight) and (2) eat mindfully (I tend to eat out of habit, boredom, and in response to negative emotions; I would like to be more present with my food this week and try to focus on the tastes/textures and my satiety). Next week, I'll check in with you about how all this is going!

For now, I weighed in this morning at 80.5kgs (177lbs), which is a good loss (1 kg/2lbs) from last week. I feel better rested and had great energy at swing last night. Yesterday, Min Gi and I went swimming at the pool near our house and I did 50 laps and felt amazing! (His response: "Well, there is one sport you are better at than me!" To which I reminded him: "But what about skiing? And horseback riding? And swing dancing? And sailing?" He laughed: "Ok. You are better than me at lots of things.")

Friday, March 12, 2010

Angkor: Day Two

Angkor Wat is big. Really big. It dwarfs even Hawaiian-shirt Min Gi. It's hard not to wonder how on earth these structures were built so long ago.

The second day of the honeymoon, we rose at 4 a.m. to make it out to the main temple, Angkor Wat, for a 6 a.m. sunrise. Walking to the temple in the dark was very spooky--especially because we forgot our flashlight back at the guesthouse. Fortunately, Min Gi had brought his cell phone!

Sunrise--minus the sun. Very crowded on the hill where we could view it, but definitely worth the trip!

We spent about three early morning hours exploring Angkor Wat, before the crowds overrun it. It is by far the most impressive temple in the park (hence why the whole park is named for it). The grounds and towers are massive and from the top you can see out over most of the whole city. The innermost temple (quite a steep stair climb up) is still a sacred site for the Khmer, so you have to cover your shoulders. I had stupidly worn one of the few sleeveless shirts I wore all vacation on that day, so I almost missed out on the experience. Fortunately, a kind tour guide loaned me his scarf so that I could go up with my husband. In the album there is a sad picture of Min Gi looking down at me left behind.

Making himself at home.

The other temples on the "Grand Circuit" were less crowded than the "Little Circuit" and much more interesting. My favorite temple site in the whole complex was Ta Prohm, known as the "jungle temple."

Ta Prohm was half nature, half ruin. It was amazing and totally kicked the Tomb Raider temple's butt for awesome gnarly trees destroying the stone walls.

Min Gi leaves a wake of destruction in his farmer-hat-wearing trail. (caption credit to Leah).

I think I took many of my favorite pictures from the whole trip on this day, so you really should check out the full 104-picture album:

Angkor Wat and the "Grand Circuit" Temples

Angkor: Day One!

Let me entertain you!

I'm finally starting to post about the honeymoon--it's only been a month since we departed Korea for Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap is best known for being the city nearest the Angkor Wat archaeological park. We spent three days exploring the temples and surrounding areas. On the first full day, our tuktuk (a passenger trailer pulled behind a motorcycle--perfect for transporting two people) driver, Tee, took us to Angkor Thom and then around to some surrounding temples on what's called the "Little Circuit."

The main temple at Angkor Thom, Bayon, is distinguished by the 51 towers, each featuring four large faces, said to resemble the great Angkor king Jayavarman under whose reign most of the structures of Angkor Thom were built. You can't go anywhere in this area without the king looking at you. Creepy.

Min Gi imitating one of the many Hindu art reliefs.

The terrace of the elephants at Angkor Thom.

The small children selling souvenir trinkets all around the temple sites are persistent, heartbreaking, and clever. Both Min Gi and I had a hard time saying "no" as often as we needed to. This young lady had an especially snazzy selling technique--speaking to me in both English and Korean--so I bought a bracelet for Min Gi from her.

Memorably frightening and quite a hefty workout, all of the temples had steep stone stairs, seemingly more suitable for monkeys than people. This temple had some of the steepest. Struck by lightning and therefore abandoned by the superstitious builders who believed it was unlucky, Min Gi in his flip-flops chickened out halfway. I took this picture of him from the top. Ha!

At the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed.

To see all of our pictures from the first day at Angkor, check out the photo album:

Angkor Thom and "Little Circuit" Temples

Thursday, March 11, 2010

State of the Blog: Three Years...

Tomorrow is my blog's three year birthday.

Although I generally dislike metablogging (blogging about blogging for those of you less fancy-wording folk), my inspiration to write this last week has been lacking (maybe you noticed) because of another brief flare up of the ulcerative colitis and the return-from-travel blahs from my post-honeymoon reality shock. I feel that I'd like to take stock of what this blog is and how it's changed over the last three years. But most importantly, how it has changed me.

Before this blog, I wrote on livejournal for about four-five years, although most of that was friends-only and is now privately archived for myself. I have kept some kind of regular writing journal since I was in about sixth grade (and wrote story collections throughout elementary school before that), but bringing it online and making my private life much more public has changed my writing and my personality--almost entirely in positive ways. Here are five of them:

1. I am more adventurous than I was. Because I started the blog to record my travels to Korea (and other places), I've pushed myself to try more things, meet more people, take more pictures, and do more things than I might have done without the inspiration to record it. Three years ago, I'd never been outside of the U.S. Now, I've lived in Korea for two and a half years (visiting many, many places there), traveled on my own to Vietnam, and just came back from my self-planned honeymoon to Cambodia and Thailand. It might not sound like a lot to some of my travel-happy blog buddies, but compared to where I was three years ago, it's awesome.

2. As a writer, I am more confident than I was. The instantaneous feedback of blog comments is both a blessing and a curse, and I've definitely had to deal with some hits to my fragile writing ego from negative comments. However, the overall response to my writing has been positive and the feedback has provided consistent critique for my writing without having to be in school. As a result, I have been writing more than ever and submitting more of my writing to literary magazines. So far, no takers... but I do admit that I haven't been as vigilant about this as I'd like to be.

3. I have deeper, more meaningful relationships with the family members and friends who read my blog. Not all of my real-life friends and family read what I write, but those that do (like my mom who sometimes comments on here and Sa Beom Nim's wife whose checking on my life reminded me how much I missed my old TKD studio) know me in a way that I don't always reveal face-to-face. I also have made good real-life friends that I originally met through blogging, like Amanda. (Side note: When I first blogged with livejournal, the opposite happened. I very quickly lost some friendships and damaged some others very seriously (which have thankfully recovered and are much stronger). However, having blogged more these days, I think that was kind of a fluke and that I just had some very mutually toxic friendships in college. Generally, blogging and honesty in writing has been cathartic and unifying.

4. I am more accountable to myself and my goals. Not only can I go back and read them anytime I want to, I feel like anybody in the world can look at my blog posts and read about my plans and put two and two together and figure out if I failed to keep the promises I made to myself (I often do... or at least don't accomplish them on my planned time frame). As a direct result of blog accountability pressure, I've gotten out of consumer debt, obtained a black belt in taekwondo, and become very selective in who I date (which, in turn, led to dating and marrying Min Gi).

5. I am more vulnerable and honest than I was. The ability to open up to others is not something that comes naturally to me, although I am a pretty good listener. It's not exactly that I lie about the facts of my life (I've always been disturbingly honest about those--like the third grade autobiography that matter-of-factly discusses my adopted brother's history of abuse), I just tend not to share what I'm really feeling or thinking about things. Partly, I (mistakenly) assume those I feel closest to will know them without me having to tell them and partly, I hate being vulnerable. Although I haven't gotten into it on this blog (relevance, people), some of my childhood was pretty screwed up and a huge chunk of it (between the ages of 4 and 7-9) is just missing (yes, I have vivid, ordinary memories from ages 2 and 3... so it's not just a normal "I forgot" thing). Therapy (and other writing not-suitable-for-blogging) healed that mess, but it left me without the ability to risk showing my true hand. I'm still scared of emotional nudity, but blogging, for all its limitations of being a very public forum and therefore I actually cannot discuss the specifics of certain things (mostly job related), is cathartic. Like a shy woman discovering her own beauty through the eye of the skilled photographer, writing out my feelings and seeing them reflected in the comments I get lets me see their strength. Feelings that before, I thought were a sign of weakness.)

So, yeah... blogging is great.

But my life is changing so much this year, I worry that my blog will change too much. I'm married now (so less blogging about the single life and dating). I'm moving back to the U.S. to become a public school teacher again, and while I am in no way ashamed of anything I've written here, nor would I be upset if my students discovered my private writing life (if anything, it is an EXCELLENT example of what I tell them about writing all the time), education in America is a bit of a double-edged sword--and internet life has cost more than one teacher her job. Also, living in the U.S. as an American is just a lot less exotic than living in a foreign country. Finally, Min Gi and I are planning to start a family when we are settled (read: I find a job) in the U.S. (yes, Mom and Dad, you read that right), and while exposing my adult friends on the blog is great fun, I'm protective of children and wouldn't want to reveal as much about them to an unknown audience. So in the near future, my "slice of life" blog may, of necessity, get a bit less revealing. I hope, though, not less interesting.

What's a girl to blog about? I'm going to keep blogging about the workings of my intercultural marriage and what I learn of my current favorite country (Korea) and its language. I'm still reading a lot (though I missed two Wednesday Reviews), and I will blog about what I'm reading. I still plan to travel (a LOT), and write about the places I go and the things/people I see there (I have at least a week's worth of blogs about the honeymoon I'm working on). As I continue to struggle with my ulcerative colitis, I may need to write about my ongoing health issues, especially now that I've resumed taekwondo at An Il with the intention to get my second black belt before I leave Korea. I'll probably write more about education in the U.S. because as a teacher there, I'm a bigger cog in the system than I am, as a native-speaking English teacher, in Korea. And I'll probably blog more about my family, as I will be living with/near them. Recently, I'm getting into frugal living/personal finance blogs and the minimalist movement, so I might write some about that (ridding myself of possessions is quite freeing). I hope you find all this fun and entertaining to read. I think my blog will become more hodgepodge (a little of this, a little of that) and less Korea-intense. Those of you reading it primarily because of your interest in Korea might find less of value, but I hope others will still remain curious about my very strange "wonderings."

Finally, I'm in the beginning stages of "monetizing" my blog, which for those of you not versed in blog-ese, means advertising or partnering with sites to earn money for people clicking on some links in my blog. I've been resistant to doing this for some time, but I've finally figured out what I want to do: I want to donate all the money I earn from this blog to my favorite charities. I love volunteering, but I know that many organizations benefit more from financial donations than they do that of time. However, I'm not rich. Nor will I ever be rich (teachers don't end up with foundations and scholarships named after them all that often, especially not those who are addicted to travel and are the main earner in the family). I donate money to charity every year, but it's not much. So here's the deal: Please click on my links if you plan to buy books (or other goodies) from Amazon. I'm going to be compiling my Korea story into a downloadable narrative e-book that I'll charge a small fee for. I may even play with Google's fancy monetizing features. Whatever money I make from so doing, I will donate to charity. I will track it openly for you in a tab (for accountability purposes--and because everyone keeps talking about "making money from blogging" and I remain firmly unconvinced of the earning power of life-narrative blogs like mine) and where I have given it. If you become inspired to give to one of my pet charity projects, please leave me a comment so that I know you care! (Please note: My husband HATES that I tell people about my charitable giving because he thinks it is "bragging." I used to feel that way, but having worked for enough charitable organizations in volunteer capacities, I now see the power of fundraising for them. And I believe that giving begets giving, but not if no one knows about it.)

So there it is: My blogging past, present, and future.

Here's to another happy year of blogging and living!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

한국어 화요일 (Korean Tuesday)

Note: I am not giving this to a Korean speaker before publishing it on my blog.

신혼여행할때 여보와 한국어 가끔 말했다. 요즘, 저는 연습 못해서 제 한국어 진짜 나쁘다 (여러분 보일수있다). 하지만, 한국어말하기 아주 재미있고 한국사람과 결혼했기 때문에 중요하다. 그래서, 지금 우리집에서 화요일에는 한국어만 사용하다.

What I was trying to say: While Min Gi and I were on our honeymoon, we sometimes spoke Korean. These days, I don't practice, so my Korean is very bad (You all can see). But, speaking Korean is fun and, because I am married to a Korean person, important. So, now in our house we use only Korean on Tuesdays.


I will also be trying to write a bit of my Tuesday blog in Korean, to keep in the spirit of studying. I keep another study notebook and journal for practice because I really don't need to prove to the world what a complete failure I am at learning languages. However, I will try to be brave and publish some small pieces on Tuesdays.

I'm quite rusty, so please have some patience with me. Min Gi is very patient, which helps. He wants to have a penalty for speaking in English on Tuesday, but he hasn't decided what that penalty will be (oh no!). So far today, we've both forgotten twice, but then we go back to speaking in Korean--so no penalties thus far. It is working as an inspiration for studying. I'm making some flashcards tonight!

Tonight I also return to my old TKD studio, An Il. The commute is ridiculous (like an hour subway, and 15 min walking on each end), but I've come to realize that I just enjoy Sa Beom Nim as an instructor and value my relationship with him and his wife and kids too much not to spend some time with them my last six months here. I will use the time on the subway to keep up with my reading goals and, hopefully, earn my second degree belt before I leave.

As for honeymoon (and more wedding--yes, I'm really late on those) pictures and posts, they're coming! I've started the process of combing through my 1500 photos from the last two weeks. Today was the first day back at school (both chaotic and easy and I don't want to blog about it at all), so I'm back in a normal schedule which should allow me to make better progress on all my current goals. However, I'm also losing my house husband as Min Gi is going back to work later this week or early next week. My dishes will be a bit less sparkling and my lunch breaks substantially less amusing, but there will be a bit more money for the new laptop he needs to buy (his old one is pretty much dead) and saving for the big move in August.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Arriving Home.

After flying all night from tropical, beautiful Bangkok, we arrived to four degree Celsius rainfall in Incheon. While it is wonderful to be home, the ugliness of Korea's concrete buildings combined with the dreary weather and the looming thought of work tomorrow with nary a clue about what my schedule will look like (oh the last minute-ness of everything!) are ganging up to make me yearn for a different lifestyle, for a new country.

I know that when spring arrives, I'll start waxing bittersweet about my last six months (less, actually) in Korea for a few years, but for now, I'm wishing I was back at the beach with a glass of red wine and no responsibilities but to finish my novel and frolic in the waves with my husband.

Many posts about the places we went are forthcoming. For now, I'll just say that we had so much fun, we've decided to have a honeymoon at least once a year.


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