Sunday, December 27, 2009

Concerning X-Mas

I made it! Yay! Christmas is checked off of my list of potential emotionally difficult hurdles. It was quite the busy few days. The festivities started off two weeks ago on Thursday with the somewhat feeble company Christmas party at Ashley's "An American Buffet" Restaurant. That label is...how shall I say...quite an interpretation. It was decent enough, I had some leche fruit which I enjoyed (kind of like a grape with a spiny nut like peel and a more citrus-y flavor) and some nice little office gossip. Friday night, my English club had their Christmas party which was a really really nice Korean dinner at a restaurant down town (marinated beef BBQ with pok em bop which is another kind of spicy rice) before going to a bar which had some really tasty snacks, the best of which was a species of rolled scrambled egg with vegetable that was mysteriously amazing with ketchup and mustard. The Koreans tried to teach us some drinking games in vain but we had fun trying. Next, we went to a noribong (yep, agaaaaaain...I think I'm done for a bit) and had fun trying to belt out some carols and random other songs.

The next morning, two friends and I made our way to Icheon which is the pottery capital of Korea, which is globally known for its ceramics. After my own ambitious semester of trying my hand at throwing pots and bowls, the best souvenir I retain is a healthy respect for anyone who can actually do it properly. Basically, there is a whole little street full of pottery shops, usually with the government accredited master's wife eyeing her husband's wares from the back of the shop, if not the master himself. The pottery was absolutely LOVELY. My favorite shop was unfortunately too expensive for the lowly likes of me to patronize but it was so cold that he told us to be silent and listen to the glaze cracking. It was the prettiest little "ping," it sounded like the clink of an English tea party or dozens of ricocheting bells. His detail work, as in most of the shops, was also amazing- lots of Korean masters specialize in this technique where they make a two layered pot- a solid one inside, and the outer shell a delicate foam of latticework. Goooorgeous. However, the most famous type of pot that Korea is known for is covered with a very distinctive green glaze. I think the only way to describe it is olive green with some jade mixed in to brighten it up. I got a set of two pots in this color, a popular man/woman pair in which the man pot is broad at the top before tapering down and the woman pot is narrow at the top before flaring out. They are both also decorated with cranes, who apparently mate for life and put together with the echoing shapes, I thought that was a really nice back story to some pieces that were stunning to begin with. I also got (what? I like pottery...) a short, squat little vase finished in a crackled white glaze with a blue painting of two birds and cherry blossoms. I fell in love at first sight. On a slightly less artistic plane (or not depending on the person), there was also an entire tub of ceramic penises, but surprisingly, we decided not to settle on that particular option. We did toy with the idea of buying some as presents (solely in the name of art of course) but spared our loved ones, so feel grateful. Hahaha. After perusing all of that street, we went to pizza hut for lunch and I made my way back home with heavy bags, a lighter wallet, and a smile on my consumerist face.

That evening, I joined my coworker for a production of "The Nutcracker" at the huge and daunting (I have even used the word sublime to describe the scale of this building...and if you don't know the proper definition of this term contact the Whitman College lit department) art center. Bar two creepy life sized dolls perched at the extremes of the stage, I thought it was lovely. I had only seen the ballet once maybe 8 years ago but I enjoyed it even more the second time through. In my opinion, the dancing ability was incredibly high. It was put on by the Bolshoi Ballet from Belarus, apparently the Moscow division of the same company gave rise to Michael Baryshnikov, the most famous ballet dancer of the 20th century. Anywho, it was good and I talked about sugarplums and dancing toys with NYU for the next few days because of it.

Sunday, I slept in and then met another coworker at the same art center to go see La Boheme. I liked the acting and the singing and the staging better than Carmen but I was disappointed not to recognize any songs...I did in Carmen and I know this to be a similarly renowned opera so I guess I need to get more cultured. Hahaha, guess that's what I'm doing. So, I also enjoyed that.

This week was the usual end of month flurry. Tests, evaluations, reports, topped off with a surprisingly fun Christmas Eve party (yes I had to work that day). The school actually went all out for this. They had all the parents send presents "from Santa" for their child so that John, a former teacher at my academy, could come back as Santa and hand each student their gift. We colored Santa pictures, sang jingle bells, sewed felt stockings and read both "T'was the Night Before Christmas" and a Christmas story about NYU that I wrote and illustrated for them before it was Show Time. Even at 7, while some were beginning to be skeptics, when Saint Nick actually showed up they could barely contain themselves. They even took him to the wall to show him the pictures they had drawn of Santa. To top it off, one of my kids got a live gerbil in a cage, completely wrapped, taken out of the Santa bag. I kid you not. Oh, Korea.

That night, another one of my coworkers made chile for all of the foreigners at my appt (because it's the only one big enough) and we all listened to Christmas music and watched Love Actually. One of my friends spent the night and Christmas day with me. We slept in, had breakfast, opened presents (thanks mom and dad and Cait and Aunt Sara and Grandma and Gretchen and Kels once yours gets here!!) and settled in for the great sloth marathon. I got lots of DVDs and books so my leisure time is set for months to come. We stayed in our PJs and littered my appt floor with chocolate wrappers, DVD cases and empty chip bags and 3 movies later, decided it was time to move, so we met our friends for a Christmas drink. I hurried home for a skype date with mom and dad and had one with Kels and Cait the next morning on their Christmas day. All in all, not bad. I feel proud of myself that I made the most of it because done wrong, Christmas could have been one big fat pity party but it was actually a nice day. That doesn't mean that I'm not looking forward to next year with my family but all in all, not bad.

Yesterday was a really nice day as well. I met a Korean friend at a nearby mall and we had a yummy lunch of shabu shabu (a pot full of broth in which you cook: vegetables, then meat, then noodles) which was yummy. Then, we walked around for hours waiting for our movie but in the meantime, I got some MAC makeup. Good to know it's there. Finally, we saw Sherlock Holmes, which I enjoyed. Due to my unfortunate obsession with Victorian England, I was bound to like it but I thought that it was pretty entertaining in and of itself. I probably won't get it on DVD but a good use of two hours. The one funny thing about the day, which is a cultural thing that I need to get used to, is physical contact. Between the same sex, both girls and boys touch each other all the time. Now, I'm all for hugs, and linking arms and all that, but it took some fortitude and determination not to laugh through 7 hours of holding a 27 year old girl's hand. Yep.

So, there's my belated update! Hope everyone is having the happiest of holidays! (See? 7 months out of Whitman and I can still alliterate...hahaha).

Love,

B

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Concerning the kiddies

It's been a while since I blogged solely about work so I feel I'm due for an update. I sent out this long looong Christmas email a few days ago where I said that my kids have been one of the more constant joys of my time here. Well, that's still as true as ever. Their quirks and bizarre species of logic keep me on my toes and affix a permasmile on my face. Columbia has gotten crazy hyper as of late...we got a new student, which brings our number back up to 12. This is the biggest class in our kindie program and the second lowest grade which makes for a busy busy Becky Teacher. Since they have gotten better at reading and are sloooooowwwly getting a smidge of fluency, we've started upholding a strict "No Korean" rule. The funny thing is that the kids have taken it up with something approaching fanaticism to the point where my class has become the McCarthy Era run mad: "Kevin speak Korean!!" "Jaden no English!" "Angela said KIMCHI!!" "BECKY TEEEEACHER!" It's a constant witch hunt which has become pretty darn amusing. Besides that, they've developed an endearing habit of breaking out in "Jingle Bells" in any down moment in class. They know about this far "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the waaaaay" before it basically becomes "oh wafun islide one horse waaaaaaaay." When they are not making me pull out my hair I adore them. Today, the littlest, sweetest, cutest, girl was absolutely in tears "because Kevin wouldn't play with me" so I had such a mom moment of picking her up and calming her down. It's enough to convince me that I do theoretically want kids...but the other thirty nine minutes of class are enough to convince me that it won't be for a bloody long time.

NYU is also doing great. They are progressing really well. I had a really really proud moment where they broke through the dreaded adverb barrier. I quote: "OK so Becky teacher, we read the sentences, pick the wrong ones and rewrite them correctly?" YEAH correct grammar! My mind exploded with mental confetti and streamers, it was palpable progress. I am also being a total stickler for saying "finishED" and not "finish" and making them pronounce every single s at the end of a word because of late, they've been falling to the wayside. In other news, I am also running furious Santa interference and have been for the last two weeks. They are just at the age where most still believe in Santa (but are discerning enough to demand "real" details) while there are maybe one or two who are very vocally think the opposite. There have been a good three or four times when I have just had to awkwardly blunder my way in the conversation "So who likes SOCKS??" to manhandle it to safer territory. Given how important Christmas is to me (and my traumatic unveiling of Santa-as-an-idea through that tragic turtleneck incident) I am absolutely bound and determined I will not be the Becky Teacher who stole Santa. The big guy stays, at least within the bounds of my classroom.

My afternoon kids have not been bad, and even managed a few endearing moments of their own. I've made snowflakes with a few groups and blasted some Bing at them (best Christmas music of all time, I have a soft spot for the classics) which made for fun times. One of my students has been plying me with boon ah pang for a couple of weeks now which is essentially a Korean street doughnut friend in the shape of a fish with red bean paste inside. Very Korean and increasingly yummy to me, I'm acquiring a taste for them. Today I got one of my kids who is sporting some very prominent holes in his mouth to sing "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth..." which was fantastic. It's also kind of sweet how respectful some of them are. Especially among the older kids, it is very rare that a student will ever give something to me with only one hand and they usually bow when they see me in the hall. They also never address me as anything but "Becky Teacher" as a kind of status thing whereas my kindies sometimes just revert to "Becky" which is fine with me but less formal. One student in my last class always makes sure that I have a seat perfectly situated in the back of the class when I have them practice their dialogues as a movie, even if it is his own. It is sweet though and it always gives me this weird flattered feeling like I'm growing up but don't quite deserve it yet.

All in all, I have had my share of frustrations but I can also see progress that I myself have contributed to which is satisfying. Next week I will have been here 4 months.... (WHAT???).... and it is nice to feel like I know what I am doing, at least in the littlest increment. I still have miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep (Columbia even finds it challenging to sit down at the moment and my post kindies would much rather hit each other and crawl under the table than answer reading comp questions) but we're going in the right direction.

In other news, I still feel like time is running quickly through a sieve out of which I only catch the occasional grain, it is going so so quickly. My days are pleasantly packed (though I've been really tired lately because of it and having the MOST bizarre dreams- I've been married twice and a princess in a musical) and the holidays haven't been unbearable so far. This week, I have a social engagement literally 6 days out of 7, this is my one cherished down day. Sunday, I had coffee with another Whitman grad in Daejeon (small world) before watching Charlie Brown Christmas and Nightmare Before Christmas with Chad, monday I had pizza and beer with Chad while watching the Grinch, Tuesday we all met some of the foreign teachers from the other ECC for drinks, Thursday ECC is taking us out for dinner as a Christmas party, Friday is the English Club Christmas extravaganza and Saturday I'm going to Icheon with a friend to see the famous Korean pottery. Sunday, blessed blessed Sunday, will be a much needed respite. Anyway, for now love you all! Still going strong!

Love,

B

PS- I said this in the email but just in case, my Christmas request from EVERYONE (if you are reading this blog it means YOU) is an email letting me know how you are to help keep up my connections back home over the holidays. You all mean so much to me and it keeps me strong and happy over here feeling secure in those relationships.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Concerning baby it's COLD outside!

The holidays are here! It's official folks, December 21st my foot- winter starts riiiiiiiight now. Hmm....last week. Not much happened actually which is really odd because somehow I feel frantically busy. In a good way. The weekend was another great one. At English club, I was up for a 3 minute speech so in true Becky nerd form, I totally gave an academic lecture on how the gothic functions in society and how it is recurring in the latest vampire mania in western culture. Can you tell I saw New Moon the night before? Yep. For my part, I thought it was incredibly entertaining though Kristen Stewart is still incapable of anything save biting her lip and looking constipated. After, we went to this great tiny hole in the wall dumpling shop. I've had mandu before but it has always been frozen and fried. Here, I saw the ahjimas (respectful way to say old woman) on this table in the corner with a mound of stuffing, putting it into hand rolled dough that was almost transluscent it was so thin. Then, no hot oil for these suckers- they were steamed which made them sticky and much much easier to eat with chopsticks. Yummy.

Saturday, I had a lie in, talked to some friends on skype, and then felt a tiny bit restless. So, I went to Seoul. As you do. I still love that I can do that on a whim, it reminds me how much of an adventure this can be. I hopped a bus, spent a good 45 minutes in the sadistic wind trying to find a jewelry market (Dongdaemun) but I eventually got there, got some last Christmas gifts and the makings for a fantastic new headband for moi. After, I shlepped on over to Forever 21, drawn by the internal western compulsion for shopping around Christmas. I wasn't disappointed, the walkway was glaring with lights and the inside blared with Mariah Carey. I got a dress, belt, earrings, and BOOTS (QUITE a feat I'll have you know as I am convinced I found the only normal sized pair of shoes in Asia). I got home, ordered pizza, and tucked into a Korean drama that I have recently become hopelessly addicted to. I think it aired about 5 years ago, it's name is "Coffee Prince" and it's about a girl who pretends to be a guy to get a job to support her family and how her and her boss end up falling in love with eachother. Very complicated, very melodramatic, very fabulous. It's the first one I've watched and I've got it bad- I have lost sleep in the last week due to this show.



Anyway, sunday I got myself to the gym and grocieries and watched more TV. So far, this week has been pretty standard work-wise. I have gone into Christmas craft frenzy though to decorate my kindy rooms- we've made presents complete with bows, colored Santa pictures, and made slowflakes up the wazzu. I love that I don't have to be politically correct here- we're celebrating Christmas gosh darn it because I can justify it as "cultural education." They do celebrate it here but not to the same extent. The other adorable thing about this week is that Columbia just learned "I Love You" and I've been serenaded with about five "I love you Becky Teacher!"s every morning. It's really hard to be in a bad mood after that.

Hopefully, I'm in for another great weekend coming up. We have tomorrow (thurs) off so a coworker and I are having a Christmas day with more shopping at the local department store mall which is so decked out with Yuletide Splendor that it intimidates even me. Imagine all the commonplace lights of Asia. Then imagine all the lights of Asia...around Christmas. Scary indeed, especially when considering the electricity bill.

Anyways, still merry and marvelous here in SoKo. Enjoy the holidays everyone!!

Love,

B

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Concerning Thaaaaaaaanksgiving!

Hello!

What a great week. To start off with, I get to stay in my apartment. Yes, I still have to pay the monthly difference between it and the other studio apartments but in my mind, it is beyond worth it to have the comforts I have here. Namely, a bath tub, guest room, a counter, and space enough for a couch (or two). Yay! That's a huge load off, now I feel completely at peace here and comfortably settled back into my little Korean life.

As for the rest of the week, it was mildly busy as the last week of the academic session but as usual, I tried to plan ahead a bit so I didn't get too terribly slammed. No harm done. We did have an interesting morning on thursday as we had a professional photographer in to take some pictures of all of the 7 year old kindies who will be "graduating" into elementary school at the end of February. All of my NYU kids fall under this umbrella so I literally spent three full classes with them navigating them through five (count them, FIVE) wardrobe changes. America's Next Top Model, look out, this was a pretty serious photo shoot. I was in two of the five shots and one of them in particular was soooo painful because the photographer spent about a half hour with each child trying to get them to smile nicely which meant some incredibly sore cheeks on my part after 6 children's worth of this treatment. One of the pictures even had them in this formal Oxford style graduation gown complete with cap and tassel. Oh, Korea.

Friday night I went to English club again which was very interesting. The article topic of discussion this week was about the Korean practice of living with your parents until you are married. This represents a pretty big change from western practice so we had a great conversation about the different sides. It seems that here, there is such an established track to go through life and in that perfect track, children are the culminating and central event. As such, parents seem to almost feel inferior or remiss if they are not actively demonstrating their love, affection, and support to their cherished children and most often, this is through money and accomodation. Even members of the club in their early 40s admitted to still receiving financial gifts from their parents. We also did talk about how this practice is not just cultural, but equally the result of Korean economic conditions-- admittedly, housing is extremely expensive here compared to salaries, and with such a wealth of people, apartments are not thick on the ground. Obviously, everyone was very polite and receptive to my opinions as to why I value my independence (obviously still recognizing the support that I have gotten from mom and dad through my life...thanks parents!!). Even though I remain unchanged in my preference to live on my own and establish myself as a self-reliant adult, I do admire how vital family is to Korean social structure. So, I suppose as always, there is much to learn from both sides.

After the meeting, the members went out to a hof (a Korean answer to a bar which is more like a cafe as most Koreans go to drink beer and soju and get snacks with it) and then finished out the night at a noribong (remember? private karaoke room?). This part was pretty darn amusing. At one point in the night, I was serenaded by four middle aged Korean men singing "Barbie Girl." I couldn't make that stuff up. Then, we proceeded to sing some Beetles and topped it all off with some classic Christmas carols, as you do. Chad and I are in complete agreement that Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas" is the best, hands down. As it is now after Thanksgiving (more on that soon) I can now give myself free reign to go on holiday glut mode and I'd imagine this will involve singing that song a time or two.

Saturday, I bustled about getting ready for my delayed expat Thanksgiving at my apartment. It turned out fantastically-- we managed chicken breast with a french sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, crudites, rolls, apple pie, ice cream, home made whipped cream, and bananas foster on a two stove burner AND it all was hot. Damn I'm good. Mom- I was so channeling your years of Tuscany dinner parties, I nearly put post-its on all of my serving dishes, I kid you not...haha. I also ended up channeling dad because I followed his sadistic and torturous tradition of making everyone say what they are thankful for just when the food is hot and smelling delicious and mouth wateringly ready. The apple does not fall far (except when it temporarily rolls to South Korea...). The company was great as well- it was all of my foreign coworkers from ECC (Theresa, Toby, Renee and Chad), Theresa's Scottish friend Nikki, her Korean friend Eun Ju, and my Korean friend from the English club, Hooney. I put a bunch of candles around the apartment to disguise the horrible wall paper and combined with the Jack Johnson backdrop and flowing wine, it wasn't a bad atmosphere at all. Very cozy, especially as most people ended up sitting in a little cluster on the floor of my living room and had a sort of picnic. When we were done eating (and eating and eating), we had an impromptu music session of all of our great Jr. High favorites so "The Bad Touch" (you and me baby ain't nothing but mammals...), "The Thong Song," "Yeah," "Slim Shady" and "Shock Collar" all came out and we completely mystified our poor Korean audience. Pumped up, we then all decided to randomly go dancing, so we did. It was a great time, we stayed for about two hours and scandalized most of the conservative Koreans with our crazy moves but overall, I had a wonderful evening and it scratched my Thanksgiving itch.

Today was mostly spent sleeping as the last two nights I have gone to bed at 3...but I cleaned up my poor little apartment in the meantime. Good day, good week, and a much much better attitude. I feel like my frustrations are slowly being managed and that I am finally FINALLY settling in to Korea, making friends with locals, learning more about the culture and having more of an adventure. That is certainly a relief.

Next up: should be a pretty good week, my schedule was changed so that instead of a late break in the day on tuesdays and thursdays, they bumped a class up so I get off at 5:30 two days a week now, woohoo! Also, tomorrow, I'm going to dinner with another English club friend, Ella, an adorable Korean English teacher. Love to all! Hope you all had very merry Thanksgivings and a promising start to the holiday season.


B

Monday, November 23, 2009

Concerning too many ups and downs but at least there are the ups

Hi everyone!

What a week, by turns fantastic and terrible. To start with the terrible parts- I had a full on panic attack thursday night which was less than fun. I was anxious to begin with and on edge from the whole apartment business (of which more below) and reading a very upsetting part of my book where the main character has to kill an incontinent man out of pity. Having just gotten through the thick of it, I looked at the clock and happened to catch a reproaching glimpse of midnight, the neon glaring at me to get to bed. (Who needs mom when I have my own demanding sub-conscious and an alarm clock?) So, I decided to be responsible in lieu of reading myself into a better place in the book. That led to too many half hours of tossing and twisting my blankets until I heard a noise outside my door. Somehow in that moment I forgot that I have three locks and that opening my door emits a noise akin to an army air raid but was sure I was going to be murdered by burglars. I grabbed the only thing I could reach...my hair dryer...and set forth well armed to take on the imaginary intruder. It was when I got in my living room, hair dryer still in hand and door still firmly locked and closed, that I really really realized that I am aaaaaaaaaaalone here. Capital A. My whole subsequent anxiety about A leaving was for what I WOULD feel and now that's crossed the temporal line into what I DO feel. I sat down on my couch and had myself a thorough little pity party, very well aided by the fact that my parent's skype went on the fritz for about 2 weeks and I thought I wouldn't get to talk to them on the phone anymore and that both of my sisters were still sleeping. So, me myself and I blubbered for about twenty minutes before a very patient friend happened to call me on skype and listened to me blubber for about twenty more before I had got it all out of my system. The good news is that now that I have begun to adjust to being alone here, it's nothing I can't handle. Yeah, it didn't feel good or empowering to be sitting on my couch crying to an empty apartment at 1 in the morning but at the same time, I never lost sight of the fact that these were normal feelings and that I was just letting it out to get it over with. Even as upset as I was, I'm not questioning being here which IS certainly empowering in its own right.

So, as to the apartment stuff. Well, my school believes that it is compromising with me. I can remain in it at least until the end of March when they want the next employee's replacement to move in with me or me to move out. I do have to pay the 200 dollar monthly difference in the meantime but I think that as important as my space is to me, it's worth it. I am having a meeting with my bosses tomorrow to lobby for them to just let me pay the difference for the rest of my contract. I see no reason they wouldn't let me as they aren't losing a cent on it, they already made sure of that. So, we'll see, and honestly, if this is resolved, then my last little frayed edges of adjustment will be nicely smoothed into place. I hope hope hope that it does.

So, now on to the fun stuff. First, my parents repaired skype somehow so yay for that. Everything seems less desperate with a mom and dad in the picture to whine to. Also, they have decided that I should join them for a month long cruise that leaves 2 weeks after I get back from South Korea. As my age deadline for Holland America is rapidly approaching and I can't think of another opportunity when I could just take a month off of work, I think I might just have to take them up on that...especially as this particular cruise happens to be bound for Tahiti and Bora Bora....tough life.

Second, we had English club again on friday which was reasonably fun again. The discussion was kind of boring because it was on the Hyundai car market...but, not bad and I made a very sweet Korean friend who is in her mid twenties. We're doing dinner soon and I feel proud of myself to be branching out even just this little bit from my work bubble. Saturday, we had Mom's Day where the mothers come in for an interactive class with their kindies. Basically, I drilled their little pants off the week before so that they would be oh so spontaneously brilliant the morning of. Funnily enough, my brilliant 7 year olds completely clammed up (but were fine anyway) while my dubious renegade 6 year olds knocked their parents socks off by reading their sentences, complete with the word "delicious". It's bizarre, in the last 2 weeks Columbia has just decided that it can read after all. Huh. Must be doing something right somewhere along the way. After that, my work friends came over for a movie and then we went out for galbi (MORE Korean food, look at me go!), drinks, and a noribong (the private karaoke room experience). Fun night. Sunday I had the new teacher Chad over for dinner. He's a sweetheart and has the exact same taste in TV and movies as I do (Moulin Rouge, Glee, and True Blood) so this one's going to be fun to have around.

Last fun thing is that Thanksgiving is around the corner! Yes, I alternate between being excited and completely dreading the holidays but I am mostly harboring good thoughts about them now. I do wish I could be there with Dad today for his birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD, LOVE YOU!!) but he's living the life somewhere around Mexico so something tells me he's doing just fine. AND, I just solidified some plans with a friend here for a Christmas sleepover extravaganza with PJs and movies and food aplenty. That, combined with our looming foreigner turkey party is this saturday (after another wedding that I have been randomly invited to), has brightened my spirits. Hope that this upswing just keeps on going but for now, doing better and better. Love!!

B

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Concerning a pretty darn fine weekend

I actually had a fantastic week. It was fairly uneventful-- I still find myself pretty tired after my longer work days but the paycheck at the end of the month should give me some of that energy back. One of my kids did tell me that he'd seen a suicide in his journal which completely horrified me...it was in response to an autobiographical writing prompt and his two other classmates wrote about being in a car accident and being lost by his parents in the US. Not quite the upbeat learning exercise I was shooting for. Oh dear. I did find out, on a lighter note, that my 38 (but looks much much younger) old boss has a crush on my dad. I put some pictures up at work of my sisters, my family, and friends and she came over and gushed. I wish I could say that it's the first time that this has happened (*cough* Roche Harbor... dad...). Oh well, it certainly won't hurt me, at most we're looking at a smidge of preferential treatment because of good genes. Dad, charm away.

Thursday night, I had two coworkers over for banana pancakes and bacon which was nice. One stayed over for a while and we had a nice long convo. We had friday off which was lovely...I had such a lazy day and adored it. I slept late. I watched movies. I read. I watched TV. I made a BLT. I didn't get out of my PJs until 6 when I realized that I was not fit for public exposure, so I de-grossified and met my boss and another teacher for her English club.

Oh my, what a night. It began with my boss chattering the whole way there because she was nervous that we wouldn't like it or that there wouldn't be anyone there that week. She was so nervous, in fact, that she insisted on going into the room before us to prepare them that foreigners were coming in and to behave. Funny. Even so, when we came in the room everyone stopped talking and jaws dropped. Someone broke the silence with, "Wow! You're pretty!" And so it began. Everyone was definitely shy around us which I found hilarious as I was the youngest person there. Some more people trickled in and the "You're really pretty/you're beautiful/ you look like a doll" moment was repeted FIVE times. Yep, I counted. The club was unexpectedly structured- there were moments for interviews, short answers, speeches and discussing an article. It's pretty much the same every week. It was really fun, I didn't notice that it lasted 2 1/2 hours. Afterwards, we all went out to a bar until 1 am and I felt even more like a rock star than usual- it was truly bizarre, it felt like they were hanging on every word and wanted an American perspetive on everything. There was also a not bad looking guy there which certainly didn't hurt my night. I will probably go back next week, if only because everyone was so nice and it is such an easy way to learn about Korean culture.

The next day, I worked out, soaked in the spa for a bit, got a latte and some groceries and went back home for an early night that was a bit ruined by my late realization that South Korea does not do decaf. I got up way way too early the next morning to meet two of my friends in Seoul. We got lunch before checking out a shrine which was moderately cool and an adjoining palace. It wasn't as impressive as Gyeongbokgong Palace but for a dollar, I was happy to walk around and take pictures of the fall leaves...even if winter decided to arrive in full force, completely stinging my cheeks with the cold. It was not a bad day though. After, I got home chilled and tired and went to bed pretty early.

Work should be fine this week if a little busy, we're preparing for "mother's day" on saturday where moms get to come and observe a class. I did also just find out that ECC will not let me stay in my apartment by myself which blows. Apparently, they don't own it but pay a monthly fee which basically means that either I have to find someone to move in or I have to move out. Ick. To be honest, it does stress me out and I'm trying to decide what that means...though it might already be decided for me because I don't think anyoen wants to move. Well....huh. Not sure what to make of that. I'll keep everyone updated. Bye!!

Love,

B

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Concerning an adjustment

Well, my roomie just went back home. This will probably seem a little abrupt to most of you because for her privacy, it is something that I haven't talked about with many people. She has been going through a pretty rough time for a while now and though we are absolutely as good as friends as ever and though we tried almost everything (and I mean everything) to try and make her comfortable here, her and Korea never got along. Home is where she needs to be. I am as positive about this as I can be in that I completely agree with her decision and completely dread the consequences. The good thing is that it is looking like I might get our apartment to myself for the next 10 months. I was very worried about moving to a much smaller and further apartment but they aren't replacing her until after the holidays, and likely not then, and work owns our place, so...I guess I now find myself in possession of Shangri-La Becky complete with guest-suite.

This did throw me for a pretty big loop and I am not completely right side up yet. I am a little intimidated by the prospect of 10 months by myself on the other side of the world, but I am certain that I can do this and I'll get through the year in fine fashion. The other foreign teachers have been amazing through the entire situation, being incredibly understanding with Asteria, and very supportive to me. They were the ones today who, when I was blubbering a little after seeing Asteria off, gave me a hug, dried my eyes, went grocery shopping with me and then cooked me chile and put on Boondog Saints. Passable movie, fabulous friends. I won't pretend that this isn't an adjustment but it is definitely not the end of the world and I am very lucky in the people that I have here to help me past this. So, not a crippling change, not a deal-breaker, and not a show-stopper, just a blip on the radar.

I had a pretty tense week leading up to A's departure but now that it's over, I think the anticipation was probably much worse than the reality. Now, I can hunker in and begin settling back down into my new life here. We did all have a really nice dinner on Friday, we gave Korean BBQ another shot after our disastrous foray into pork belly meat our first week here. This, thank god, was delicious- tender, flavorful, marinated beef with yummy sides. It definitely redeemed the culinary genre and I'll be trying it again. (Me? In a Korean restaurant? ME? Liking a Korean restaurant? Progress? I think so!) Saturday, we all went to Seoul to get in some last minute Christmas shopping as I happen to have two parents with very particular shipping schedules. We had a lot of fun and I got some great gifts (get excited...). There was an apple festival going on, so I took a picture with a statue holding an apple, pretending to bite it and another statue even fed me one. We had a heavy but yummy lunch at a Greek place in Itaewon-- gyros and a cross between chips and fries. After, we stopped by Dongdaemun which has booths and booths and booths of wholesale jewelry making supplies. It was really beautiful to walk through but a bit like what I imagine backstage Vegas to be- rows upon rows of sparkling beads and decals and jewels and feathers and buttons and headbands, basically an army of accessory materials. We were worn out after shopping so hard, so we took an early train home and tucked in.

I honestly think that I am in a good place right now with a lot of promise for the coming months. I was so happy to support Asteria through her challenges but I it drained me emotionally in ways I can only now see. I think this is an opportunity for us both to rest up a bit and get back to full speed.

A- love you honey, hope you made it back OK!


Love,

B

2 things I forgot to mention a while back:

1.) At Halloween, one of my kids cracked me up with a little twist on an old favorite. "Trick or treat, trick or treat, give me something good to eat, if you don't, I don't care, I WILL EAT YOU!!!" I think we have a new contender, watch out children of America. And Korea.

2.) I maaaay have already written this but I think not and this is by far the funniest thing yet to have happened to me so if so, you get it again. For Chuseok (remember a few entries back?), it is traditional to give little gifts. Expecting some scented candles and chocolate? Oh, no my friend. My boss gave us all entire kits of toilet articles. I am not talking nice, scented body washes or luxury lotions, but 8 tubes of toothpaste and 8 bars of soap. Korea takes hygiene to a whole new level. But, this gift didn't take the cake. My coworkers got little tokens of appreciation from some of the parents of their kids. Asteria got a gorgeous Dior lipstick, another got Chanel. What did I get? Beef. I kid you not. A cooler full, to be precise, of frozen, ground, spiced, beef. It's what's for dinner. (To be fair, I have come to appreciate this a little more- a.) because beef is incredibly rare and expensive here, they don't raise cows for meat but import everything from Australia and b.) because it's actually pretty tasty)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Concerning Ayche Aye Double-L Oh Double You Double Eeee En Halloween Night (clap clap)

Hokay. So. Last week was an interesting one. I survived the monthly transition in fine style due to some strategic pre-planning so most of the week I was smugly sitting pretty with plenty of time to do a few fun extra Halloween projects. In the spirit of the day, I loaded up on sugar to dispense amongst my little ravenous masses-- snickers, chewey pumpkin Korean candy (yummy, who knew?), and ghost lollipops. They went down like a charm, the kids loved them. I also procured a pumpkin- admittedly, a small, grey-orange, eating pumpkin, but a pumpkin nonetheless. I brought it in to work and carved it with my first kindie class which was fantastic. I have realized that after how many years of just giving up and taking over the carving festivities at my house, I've become pretty good. I handled all of the knife parts, obviously, but I let the kids scoop out the seeds (and cried a little bit inside that I couldn't let them smush their hands all around in it and get their uniforms dirty because this is, in my opinion, the best part hands down). But, we had that sucker gutted and glowing within 15 minutes. Not bad considering I was also managing 6 6 year olds at the time and that no one came out of it with bleeding appendages. We took some pictures in all of our costumes and had fun. Two girl friends and I were the power puff girls, so I had a black dress, a yellow belt, a yellow head band, and felt yellow wrist super hero things. I even put my hair into the ball pigtails and the kids thought it was hilarious. The kids upstaged me though, they were painfully adorable. Among the memorable ones: Snow White, Dracula, the Little Mermaid, a tiny knight, a tiny aristocrat complete with cravat, and my favorite 5 year old kindie was a jack-o-lantern topped off with a squishy orange hat.

After the pictures, my 6 year olds and I read a scary story that I wrote about all of them ("The Haunted Tree" about helping a sad ghost with a jack-o-lantern) and then we performed "5 Little Pumpkins" for the 5 year olds. They did my mother and me proud. After lunch, Asteria and I were in charge of a crunchy onion ring eating contest which was absolutely hilarious. It cracked me up to see the little dressed up 4 year olds revolving around to try and get the onion ring in their mouth and failing miserably. Too cute. Throughout the afternoon, I gave all my kids the candy (after making them say trick or treat of course) and toated my jack-o-lantern around with me. I thought it was really endearing that even my oldest kids were enthralled with it and shocked to find out that it was, in fact, a real pumpkin. I also read some funny Halloween poems and generally had a fun day of it.

Saturday morning, I went to see the opera Carmen in Daegu, which is a city about 1:45 hours away by train. It was a gorgeous ride there, the unrelenting green hills have finally sprouted color. My favorite were these violently yellow ones that sporatically popped up during the journey. The opera itself was nice, especially given that it cost me precisely $10 for the ticket. What it lacked in professionality and acting it made up for in cheerfulness. I didn't realize how many of the melodies I would be familiar with. My favorites were "Habanera" and "Toreador." Although, as with most operas, the language thing was interesting as Asteria and I swore we heard Italian, Spanish, and French jumbled together throughout the songs. I hadn't seen a real opera performance before (bar Whitman's production of Mozart's Cossi Van Tutte) and I enjoyed it but I remembered all of my first impressions when we briefly studied Don Giovanni in core freshman year. The timing in particular always cracks me up- they spent about 15 minutes establishing that a woman had a message from her lover's mother ("You have a message from my mother?" "Indeed, my darling, a message I do carry from your mother!" "Truly, from my mother?" "From your mother!" "From my mother, your hands do clasp a letter!" "All this I do declare, that I do possess a message written by the hand of your own dear mother!" ) but then the death of Carmen, the building point of the whole opera, takes five seconds and is this pathetic little stab. Oh well. I guess maybe George Bizet was adopting a more journey centered approach to his music instead of minding the destination.

After the opera, we tried to find a restaurant but completely failed so we settled for McDonalds and hopped a train home. I freshened up and then met some girlfriends at a bar downtown for some Halloween drinks before hitting up the only proper dance club in town, Cocoon. Even after being here for the chunk of time that I have, the whole foreigner thing still takes me by surprise sometimes. We had a bit of a red-sea effect again when we came on the dance floor and every time that I danced with a guy, it seemed as if I made his night. I swear this is not me being arrogant because I don't believe that this is in any way related to me save the fact that I am American. Either way, it was a really fun night and we danced until 3 in the morning.

I think that I'm personally doing better and better on the Korean front. And, we discovered these delicious chicken nuggets in the frozen food section of the grocery store which doesn't hurt. Love you all! Mwah!

Becks

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Concerning cautious optimism

Well, if you are still reading this after the whiny rant of my last post, kudos. This blog will be a bit more cheerful, I promise. After writing that friday night (and despite how self-indulgent it seemed, I think it was good that I realized what was bugging me), I woke up saturday and headed off to Seoul for some teacher training. We found the building really easily, being the cosmopolitan Seoul veterans that we are, and strapped in for our 3 1/2 hour long presentation. The first section was really helpful, introducing a new type of class for our kindies which I am not, as of yet, teaching, but I am freely stealing some of its games to play with my kids. There were some really helpful videos of this guy teaching this particular lesson. Around break-time, my coffee perk deserted me so the second half kind of drudged by. It, too, was helpful in its own way and gave me some ideas to implement with my afternoon kids to help them do better on our company wide standard exams that monitor their progress. One of the best ideas was to turn the frequent dialogues that we go through in the book into a movie. This was a much needed development, because in one of my classes, I have become such an automaton that we mechanically went through the dialogue as usual and then just as I was about to say "Any questions? No? Are you sure? OK, workbook!", my students said it for me. Ahem. Time for a change, I'd say. They cracked up when I made a student curl their book into a tube to be "cameraman" and I, as the director, shouted out "Action!" and "Cut!" I usually try to be creative in my classes as it's waaaaaaaay more fun for both them and me but I had let this one slip through the cracks. My two oldest classes are less than thrilled that I purloined a "one minute speech" concept from the training as well, to be implemented at our next class, but they are a little more enthusiastic at the chocolate pie bribery that will await them upon completion. I think this will be really good, relaxed practice to help their fluency in stringing together sentences.


After the training, Asteria recognized two guys who went to Whitman (who are apparently not the two people from Whitman that I already knew about- my little college is slowly taking over South Korea, colonizing it one bottle of wine and onion at a time. Our old president, Tom Cronin, is also here. Weird.) so we talked to them for a second before moving on to my favorite portion of my day...shopping. We hopped a subway to Insadong, the touristy area of Seoul but also one of the best market streets ever. There were a lot of traditional Korean stuff like hamboks and painted paper things and antiques and jewelry and GORGEOUS ceramics. If I could think of any possible way to get the ceramics home with me, my bank account would be in trouble. Some of it was also not so genuine but I really really really liked walking around and beginning to accrue Christmas presents. There were also two guys giving free hugs so we hit them up before getting some cool traditional cookies called "Dragon's Beard." It's basically spun sugar in a spidery web around a mildly sweet nut mixture. Fun to eat. After, we went to Itaewon (the foreigner district) for an OK French dinner of mustard chicken and a mediocre waffle. I am so aware of how much of a snob this makes me....but you can't beet the Belgian waffles in France and, go figure, BELGIUM. But, it was good enough, and sent us on our way full and happy.


The next morning, I felt a little under the weather, so I redefined "Lazy Sunday" and didn't move from the same spot on the couch. For the whooooole day. Yep. Monday was a breezy day at work that went well because I was still riding on my wave of training motivation. I noticed that a grammar lesson for NYU was a little scanty on quotation marks so I wrote them a short Halloween story about all of them and had them all read their own parts, slyly reinforcing quotation marks as we went, and they ate it up. We even turned off the lights and pretended that it was a scary story, so that was fun. Yesterday, we had more teacher training, but it was only two hours in the morning here at school. After, Asteria and I went for really nice workout at our gym.


An aside on the gym: Korean gyms are bizarre. First off, the machines are really hyperbolic. There is either no resistance at all, or, if you increase the setting by even one, the machine magically transforms into a medieval torture device. Imagine that. They are pretty convenient, I will give them that, as they provide the workout clothes for you to wear. Most just go with that but I have also seen velvetine sparkly bell bottom jazz pants, panty hose, and even bare footed treadmilling so the fashion thing is a bit of a variable. I also got a peak at one of the three types of classes that they offer (yoga, jazzercise, and aerobics) and it looked great and difficult. I even saw a pilates move or two, so yay, though the instructor was a little scary-- a young musclely guy with shaved legs who moved around and physically made the women do the exercise who were too tired to finish themselves. Oh dear. Well, I'll get fit whether I am willing or not.


Anyway, after doing some free weights, we hit up the spa area which I liked even more than Yuseong Hotel. It was pretty nice (not the least so because it's completely included in our gym package...) because there were frog fountains around the pools and a big Aphrodite statue in the middle. Sounds kitch, and it is, but nice in a yay femininity kind of way. There were also more massage jets, and the temperatures were less extreme so I could take advantage of more of the areas. There was even a sauna that I could brave that had a really pretty mosaic of semi-precious stones AND some hot tile bed cave thingies that you could lie in. True, they had stone pillows that reminded me uncomfortably of Memoirs of a Geisha but it was veeeeery relaxing. The only slight hiccup was the low grade anxiety of being naked in public so close to the school...I've heard horror stories of some of the younger kindie boys accompanying their mothers only to jump out in the locker room to say hi to their teachers. Having a spa less than a block from work has its convenience but exacts its pound of flesh in a distinct hyperawareness when in the women-only areas.

Once fully steamed, soaked, heated, and scrubbed, we got some quick groceries and a snack of popcorn chicken and mandu, watched HP 6 and then Asteria made me tell her the entirety of HP 7 right after. That, of course, ate up the rest of the day right there and it was a pretty good one. So...still trying to change my mentality with regards to where I am and taking advantage of it but I have lowered my voice a few octaves below shrill panic and enjoying a nice few days. OH, and mom and dad left for their 3 month cruise a few days ago and, despite an early technology snaggle that made me think I might not be able to talk to them voice to voice for those whole 3 months, are happily sailing the Panama Canal tomorrow. Exciting! My family has never been so all over the place. But, it was really adorable because the parents sent me a Christmas package that will dutifully stay in the deepest darkest corner of my little wardrobe until December 25th. I had to take some food care package stuff and saw the carefully wrapped presents with the little tags "To Becky, From Mom" and all right yeah I cried (JUST a little) but it was a very sweet and welcome reminder of home.

So, sappiness aside, I'm have a relatively quiet weekend here in Daejeon. The big highlight is...COSTCO. I kid you not....neither that there is a Costco here, nor that it is actually the anticipated highlight of my weekend. I think all will be explained when I reveal that not only does it have cheese (a hot commodity here), but PIE which I will be investigating for Thanksgiving purposes. That's about it for now, KEEP THE EMAILS and COMMENTS coming and miss you all!

Love, me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Concerning a mental roadblock

I'm in the mood to give voice to some random thoughts and since you are a somewhat captive audience, buckle your seatbelt. I am starting to get a little frustrated at the process of establishing my life in Korea. Actually, that sentence was kind of my case and point- I feel like I should not still be establishing and transitioning but actually living out this year. I have now been here 7 weeks and am in this weird place where I have been here long enough to get more comfortable and familiar enough to branch out and yet, I'd still rather be in my apartment watching Glee (and in no way is this a bad thing in and of itself, Glee is fabulous) than going out and learning something. I gave myself some leeway of comfort and familiarity in the first few weeks when I was legitimately getting my feet here, but my self-imposed grace period is wearing thin. I feel conflicted because my rational side absolutely knows that it is crazy not to take advantage of the opportunities I have here; I am privileged to be in such a position to understand a people so foreign to my own. Does that mean that I am taking advantage of it? Not really. I have gone on 1 hike, I have shopped around Seoul a few times, I went to see a Greek movie in Busan and have displayed an impressive amount of determination in seeking out each and every foreign restaurant and English language book store. I am not learning the language, trying the food much (that drive has been really diminished after my culinarily traumatic first week), meeting or spending time with anyone save my coworkers or feeling much excitement about getting to know Korea. Granted, it is not like I don't enjoy work or where I am living, there are a lot of really great things here, but that "great" is more tepidly pleasant than wow-ing. I just feel frustrated that I'm not that engaged here yet when I assumed that, by now, I would be secure enough to take more risks. This could easily be the Unfair First Love Syndrome where nothing will ever or could ever live up to what I had in England, I could very well have inflated expectations of how I would find Korea. I guess I feel overwhelmingly apathetic and wish that was not the case. When I talk to people about what I am doing, there is a glamorous expectation of picking up and schlepping to Asia for a crazy, unpredictable year. In reality, Korea is polite, really really homogeneous, and crawling with people. It is the country where I sleep, eat, and go to work. I just gotta ask...where is the romance?


To answer myself, as you have licence to do in an angsty blog, I know that it is largely self-created and that your happiness is most often completely in your own hands. I also know that life would be equally stagnant (at least at times) at home, but it would be offset by the comforting familiarity of what I know. I am just disappointed in my constant impulse to override anything I see with that familiarity and trick myself, with the onslaught of foreign restaurants and English language bookstores, into making Korea into an imitation United States instead of letting it be what it is. Well, long-winded soliloquies (as this is beginning to feel like one) are part of my process of working through the slightly down days to crush meaning out of this experience whether it is forthcoming or no. At least, at the end of the day, I have complete and total faith in my stubbornness. I want to have the year that people (and I) expect so much that it will happen in some way or another. Huh- random memory. I didn't like tea when I first got to Norwich. I just kept trying it until my taste buds were used to it and I was accustomed to the bitterness. Then, I liked the taste and experience enough to genuinely enjoy the whole thing. Well, Toto, we're not in Earl Grey anymore, more like green tea, but this cup will go down the hatch, gosh darn it, and I will eventually appreciate it too, whether I like it or not.


News-wise, as you might expect from the indulgent venting you just waded through, this week was a tad scanty. Work is fine, NYU (my class of 6 yr olds) already has 5 little pumpkins down flat and Columbia (my class of 5 yr olds) can aaaaaalmost hold up the right amount of fingers in each part of the song. We're getting there. I joined a gym, so that's good news, and as it's right between work and home, it couldn't really be more convenient. Tuesday night, the girls and I checked out a new Thai Restaurant (more evidence of my unfortunate and very bad Korean Avoidance Plan) which had some yummy mild yellow coconut curry (lots o adjectives, I know) and we sat on fun pillows on the floor, eating off of coffee tables. Tomorrow, we have some mandatory teacher training in Seoul for a few hours, and after, more shopping and then probably a French restaurant in the foreigner district...I mean a very authentic and fulfilling Korean dining experience....cough. Anyway, more soon! Love from a mostly fine Becks.

PS- I still really look forward to hearing from you all, it helps keep the slightly grayer days in perspective. HINT. Conveniently enough, I am very easily reached via skype (endresba), email (beckyaendres@gmail.com), facebook, or even by pushing the clever and innocuous "comment" button at the end of this blog. You all should give it a try sometime.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Concerning pumpkins, film, and fish

"Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate...the first one said, 'Oh my, it's getting late!'" Halloween has exploded throughout the school in all of its orange and black splendor. Though Koreans don't really celebrate it that much, work is making a big deal of it to culture the students on American traditions...one sugar induced coma or jack-o-lantern at a time, it would seem. And just in case you are curious, the ever so clever and witty opener is from my favorite Halloween chant (to be faithfully reproduced below) taught to me by my mother and dutifully repeated lots and lots and LOTS of times come every October. I plan to ruthlessly drill it into the heads of my little 5 and 6 year olds until they know it better than I do, with hand motions of course. As it is, I had a fun week of making various odds and ends to put up in my two kindie classes. I made: a very well crafted "Happy Halloween" sign out of black letters to hang from the ceiling in Columbia, two spiders to hang from a web in the hall, colored trick or treating and witch pictures with both NYU and Columbia, and made construction paper jack-o-lanterns with NYU. If that wasn't enough, I also had my 11 year old students write me a Halloween story in their journal. Can anyone tell that I like the holidays or is it too subtle? The receptionists also put up balloons on all available ceiling real estate and covered the walls with more decals and added a dancing skeleton on the 3rd floor desk that is the constant delight of the kindies. My work is like walking into a Halloween supply store and we still have three weeks to go until the actual holiday. Anyone who so much as dares to be unfestive should gird their loins before coming within a mile.

So, not a bad week. We also got our first month's paycheck so I'm a millionaire! OK fine, in won. Saturday, Asteria, Laura and I headed south for the Busan International Film Festival. It sounds very promising and professional, doesn't it bring to mind red carpets and enlightening perspectives on post-modern cinematography? Mmmm, well. We hopped the KTX bullet train and was there in time, unfortunately, to catch our 11:00 AM movie, "The Dust of Time." Yes, it was as bad as the title. After two hours of incoherent statements on historic memory and angles, we made a grateful escape to some much needed Mexican Restaurant (one of about three in the whole of Korea). I had a decent burrito and some yummy drinks before heading back to the film festival area just in time to miss our second movie. This may have been for the best, as it was a very light and heartening chronicle of how African countries find safety and comfort in the tradition of killing Albinos. Your average breezy movie, clearly. Instead, we went to a noribong for some karaoke. I figured this was inevitable given where I am, so I gave in and we rented a room (here, noribongs rent individual rooms so you only sing with your party) for an hour and poured out our hearts with some Kelly Clarkson, some Beyonce, some Jason Mraz, some Backstreet Boys and yes Caitlin, some Bonnie Wright (and Celine but not Sam's song...). Interesting hour, I had a little too much fun with the strobe light and echo features that came with the room. Then, we got home and crashed.

This morning, I talked to my family for a while on skype and all of my old neighbors who happened to be visiting (yay Beards and Highlands), it was very comforting to hear lots of familiar voices and everyone's well wishes. It makes this immeasurably easier to feel my support system. Anyway, I watched some more bad TV in my PJs (this morning was Vampire Diaries and So You Think You Can Dance) before heading out with some of the girls at work to a coffee place. I had wild rose tea which was pretty good before taking advantage of a little special feature that came with this particular cafe...after having a drink, you can soak your feet in a tub and have little minnows eat all of the dead skin off. It was actually very relaxing and after I got over being ticklish, it felt sort of good, like a stream of gentle bubbles or when your foot falls asleep and it tingles as it begins to regain sensation. I still twinged every time they nibbled a really tickly area, like between my toes, but it was a very weird and unexpectedly fun thing to do. So here I am, another week gone! I still miss everyone though and I am putting out another plea for comments and emails! It's always important to me to stay in touch. Anyways, love to all!

Me.

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate...
The first one said, "Oh my, it's getting late!"
The second one said, "There are witches in the air..."
The third one said, "Oh, we don't care!"
The fourth one said, "Let's run and run and run!"
The fifth one said, "It's just Halloween fun!"
And oooooooo went the wind, and OUT went the light...
And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Concerning Chuseok

Last Wednesday was the last day of school before our little Chuseok holiday. Chuseok is apparently the Korean answer to Thanksgiving, inasmuch as it is a very family oriented day that involves a lot o' food. Traditionally, the entire extended clan goes to the house of the eldest son of the eldest couple in the family-- usually the grandparents. They play lots of games and bow a lot (the kids to the elders, usually repaid by money) and then they go to the cemetary where their ancestors are buried and in a very Confucian gesture, bow to them as well for good measure. After, the family (or the kids as the case may be) makes a wish on the full moon.

In school, the kids came all dre
ssed up in their hambok finest and looked adorable enough to eat. I settled with devouring them with my camera. As you can see in the pictures, the girls where a very short little vest with long sleeves and a long skirt/dress that starts a little bit underneath their throat. The boys wear long tunics over poofy pants that are gathered at the ankles. Most were gorgeous and very bright fabrics-- pink being a favored choice for both girls and boys-- and they made the school look like a menagerie of little exotic birds. My activity with NYU, my 6 year old kids who have been studying English for 3 years already, was to make son peun. We basically shaped rice dough into balls, pressed them out into bowls, scooped a sesame seed-brown sugar mixture inside, and pinched them into crescents like mandu (fine, pot stickers for all you Americans...haha). We had fun with that and then running around the class taking pictures afterward. Then, I made jeghee with my 5 year olds that have been studying for about 7 months now. They're essentially yoyo hackey saks made out of brightly colored crepe paper that they could kick around so clearly, they loved them. I also got some fantastic pictures there, I have really freaking adorable kids if I do say so myself.

So, for real Chuseok, Asteria and I went to Seoul yet again but finally started to see what was in the city. We found our very cheerful hostel right away wednesday night and started thursday morning with a trip to Namdaemun Market. It's the biggest traditional Korean market in the country which basically means any stall you can think of-- lots of shoes, headbands, fake designer accessories, and clothes. It was a mess of people. Then, we went in search of Dongdaemun which is this huge wholesale jewelry market but only found lots of bolts of fabric and buttons. On our way to a yummy lunch at Taj (Indian place as subtlely referenced in the name), we discovered an oasis of western commercialism topped off with (and this made our jaws drop in joy)...a Forever 21. Yay. So we know at least, somewhere out there, western sizes theoretically exist for us. After getting a dress and some earrings, we schlepped back to the hostel to lie down before our evening. An hour later saw us dressed in our theater finest on our very confusing way to an Italian restaurant for dinner. I made the mistake of ordering Neopolitan pizza...which came with whole mini squid on it and what I suspect to be shark. That was not a pleasant surprise. Food wise, I feel like I am still easing into Korean food and still relying on my western places for comfort. I think that especially in Seoul, where we had so many international options, we did end up taking more advantage of them than the local places but it is my goal to be more adventurous and eventually come around to more Korean cuisine. What has been frustrating, however, is that very often you simply can't get away from it, ready or not. My Italian pizza still came with kimchi on the side, an entire ocean full of weird crustaceans on it and our garlic bread still had grains of sugar. I know that the US does Americanize a lot of foreign food as well but I still didn't anticipate how much the Korean taste palate permeates everything here, even when it is very very incompatible with what it is mixed with.

Diatribe aside, after our disappointing dinner, we went to see this really cool traditional
Korean performance called Miso. It sort of resembled opera with Korean dance thrown in, telling the story of a couple who falls in love, is separated, reconciled, and then married, through the four seasons. They all wore really pretty hamboks and the singing and traditional instruments were really cool to see. We were in the front row as well, and the stage came about to our rib cage, so in the winter snow flake dance, fog literally poured off into our laps. They also had some really great drumming and I appreciated the subtlety of the dance- it consisted of a lot of spinning and hand work; the fingers especially were really expressive. So, that was a nice glimpse of Korean culture and helps me put the hectic day to day side that I see into a little bit of perspective as far as the historical and artistic sides of this people.

Next morning, Asteria and I checked out Gyeongbokgong Palace. We spent the whole morning wondering through the series
of courtyards. Similarly to the temples we went to, the rooves and eaves of the buildings were may favorite part. I am beginning to see this as a sadly neglected area of western architecture, haha. It has been renovated fairly recently, so all of the paint was very bright and the details very ornate. I also liked the little train of mystical animals that was put onto every gable on top of the buildings. While walking around, we saw a reenactment of a cabinet meeting where the nobility all filed out, proceeded by the king and his attendants. It was pretty coordinated as the attendants had to put everyone's shoes on for them. I am still learning the significance of shoes here- for instance, we even had to remove ours to enter some of the palace buildings. After walking around for a while and seeing a lot of courtyards that blurred together (except the two storied pavilion in the pond where the king entertained dignitaries...that was quite pretty), we briefly walked through two museums. What struck me about them was how interesting a country can be about its history. In a timeline flanking the foyer of the first museum, it talked at length of the glory days (the Joseon Dynasty where Korea still owned part of China) and then had only one entry between 1700 and 1920. And also, apparently one of the most popular kings of this dynasty invented the sundial around 1300. So silly of me to think that it was the Romans two thousand years before that....huh. The museum also had some hamboks from the more recent royalty on display, very pretty. The last thing of interest was a really traditional painting of five mountains, the sun, and the moon. This caught my attention as it was the backdrop for Miso. Apparently, it is historically pretty big here. It symbolized the perfect universe, and the king's throne was exactly in front of the middle, so the symmetry of this perfectly ordered universe hinged upon him. Very interesting.

After that, we had a great lunch at Buddha's Belly, a Thai place in the foreigne
r district of Seoul. Dad- it's pad thai approached yours, it was that good. After, we lingered in a bookstore and then happened upon a random cricket game. It was a bunch of Muslim men just hanging around but it was fascinating to see. For how many European, American, African and Korean people there were in the district, to be watching what was presumably an Indian group of friends kind of boggled my mind. I don't agree with Jack Sparrow that there is less and less in the world to see, on the contrary, there seems more and more, but the world does feel smaller in its accessibility. It was a reflective moment. After, we got dinner and had a drink with some people from the hostel in a nearby bar. We met and lost in pool to a very fun group of New Zealanders and hopped home the next day. Now, I have one more day of blissful nothing (of course meaning hours and hours of uninterrupted bad TV from the internet...ah what joy is mine) before back to work, though only a 4 day workweek.

I forgot to mention that I have already been here almost a month and a half. As I get more comfortable with the routine of the school, the days are flying by and with our little getaways on the weekends, I can never quite place where all of the time seems to go. I think that is a good thing, it gives me hope that this year won't drag but will still be the fun experience that it is promising to grow into. Just now, I am enjoying beginning to be a proper tourist and really see what Korea is about but to be honest, I am also dreading the holidays a bit. I am (affectionately) known as the Christmas Nazi at home for very good reason, I deify tradition big and small and have never had a single Thanksgiving or Christmas without my family. I do have some fun things planned, we're having a big foreigner potluck on Thanksgiving with Costco pies and specially imported Stovetop stuffing (thanks mom!) so I am determined to make the best of it, but it is not something I am really looking forward to. Oh well. Still plugging along and despite my bouts of whining, doing pretty darn well. Next up: back to work and then, this weekend, the Busan International Film Festival and feeling all superior and cultured. Haha.

Love from me!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Concerning a distinct lack of fireworks

Well, hello all. Sorry I've slowed down on the internet front, work got absolutely crazy starting around friday. Whew, what a few days. As September goes on its merry little way, our billing cycle goes with it which means a lot of fun things for us teachers. Among them: in class tests, grading them, individualized evaluations for all 50 of my students, switching over the curriculum to October's syllabi in all of the classes and navigating a couple of schedule changes. All in all, it has actually been kind of fun and pleasantly busy. I really like feeling productive and useful, and I certainly have been both in this last bout.

Hmm...news. We ventured to Seoul (again, and will go a THIRD time tomorrow nigh
t) on saturday in search of a firework festival. Actually, I am getting ahead of myself because friday night, Asteria and I decided to get good ol ribs at TGI Friday's. On friday. I'm telling you, we're crazy down here. Topped off with eggplant parmesan quasadillas and the best caramel brownie sunday ever (given we're in a country in which baked goods simply do not exist), it was a reeeeeally needed indulgence. Even if it was waaaay too expensive. So, back to Seoul. We went off in search of the 2009 Seoul International Fireworks Competition which sounds very professional and daunting. They even told promised a preshow (with lasers and pyrotechnics) proceeding a battle between the Korean, Canadian and Chinese firework shows. Well, there was not a single glimmer to be found, barring someone's half hearted sparklers. So, basically, we ended up walking around the pretty cool "63 Building," very daringly named for its number of stories. It had an underground mall featuring an Asianized wax Leonardo DiCaprio, who looked like Frankenstein's monster with gangreen. Then, after sitting by the river for 3 hours in vain search of any sort of explosive (and hearing about how one of the girls rejected Brad Pitt cerca Legends of the Fall....go figure that one out...) we gave up and plunked home via the slow train. This turned out to be a glorified rattling cattle car of all of us sitting on the floor of the restaurant car in the "standing room" section and getting awkward pictures taken of us. Oh well, home again, and none the worse for wear. Hopefully, our next expedition to Seoul will go better.

Next up: Chuseok! (Korea's version of Thanksgiving). Tomorrow, the kids are coming in their little traditional hamboks and we are making food and crafts. I promise lots of pictures. That's all for now, I'll post a much more satisfying entry in a few days.

Love!

Me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Concerning flaming polar bears

It seems that my blog is slowing down into a weekly post, as work picks up and my Korean life slides into a "quick succession of busy nothings" (From Jane Austen's letters...duh). Well, rather "busy somethings" because this experience is far from null. Another work week done, several thousand new lessons learned about teaching. The learning curve goes on but still keeping afloat and feeling ever more competent. A highlight from the last few days: having the four 14 year old boys in an advanced writing class completely school me in Harry Potter spells, they were spewing Latin(ish) words and diligently butchering them (Boldmate? Really?) at a speed that even beat my nerdy Potter knowledge. Second highlight: teaching my youngest kindies (the 5 year old hellions) to pound it and seeing a whole little class of gansta Korean children. Epic. Yesterday, we made the snazzy, 50 minute, bullet train trek (they even have a karaoke room aboard which we unfortunately did not patronize) to Seoul to see a Korean ice hockey game. First off, I was extremely glad to have some experience with European public transportation before tackling the Seoul subway system- it was a compost bin full of worms going every which way and most definitely NOT in English. We did manage with only one minor mishap involving a hopped turnstile but live and learn. Our group met some other foreigners in the foreign district (go figure) and, after checking out an English bookstore (bought "The Thorn Birds" and tore myself away from "Anna Karenina") , we had a very welcome properish cheeseburger at an American bistro. The game itself was fantastic. From what we could make out, the team mascot was a Polar Bear as the players entered the rink through the flaming head of one. Yes, you read correctly. I really can't explain more than just one word-- Korea. We made a rabble-rousing time of it, dutifully egging on any fight that we saw and applauding the requisite blood on the ice. Of course, this got us a LOT of looks from incredulous Koreans, but it also got us on the big screen for about 2.157 seconds so there. Hoarse from shouting at the players and singing along to every bad western and Korean pop song that was blared through the speakers, we left the rink and made our wiggling way back through the subway system to the bus terminal. Asteria and I had a very long but very profound ride home. We talked the whole 2 hour long way (OK this doesn't sound long but it felt like several archeological ages) about life, love, Korea, college, and...grad school. I know I said this in my last post but I really am getting more and more excited at this idea. What is good about it is that, having been excited about several careers in the past few years, I still have a whole year to make sure about this before I have to apply. As it is, UW is sounding better and better. It is in the low twenties in the national ranks for English PhD programs which, while not phenomenal, is respectable. It also has a summer London study abroad program centering on the British novel...BUT, we'll see where the coming months take me with regards to this.

Anyway, we pulled back into Daejeon, and it was very settling to feel myself back somewhere familiar. I guess you don't know what is familiar until you go somewhere not, so it's comforting to know that my city is getting a little less foreign...if only the four block radius of it that I know. Next up: back to work tomorrow! As always, love from me!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Concerning tulle and temples

Friends and loved ones, we are gathered here today in cyberspace to celebrate the ridiculousness of Korean weddings. Oh my dear lord. I was invited to my first one on saturday and it was certainly an experience. But first- last week was pretty good, sorry I haven't posted sooner. Work was work as usual, still getting everything together. A highlight included the two nights where Asteria, one of the other teachers, and I got pizza and watched the new Sense and Sensibility. That was really nice, especially now that we have discovered the Domino's 3 minutes from our apartment and with it, normal pizza without sweet potato paste (although it's still offered, of course). Hooray! Another interesting development is that I am starting to be bit by the grad school bug. I've started some internet research and am beginning to pull together a rough list of colleges I want to look into. A lot of it really appeals to me- most of the doctorate programs require two languages before graduation so I'd get to study Latin or Greek or something fun like French! I have been paying special heed to what research the faculty is conducting, because I would be limited by that, and privileging those with any Victorian focus. I like that kid in a candy shop feeling I get when excited, I haven't felt it in a little while. Though this is SO so very far from definite, it is nice to feel like I still have passion for English.

Anywho, back to the weekend. We all got dressed up and went to the 'Crystal Wedding Hall' which is 3 floors up this random building. We are greated inside by an explosion of pink and slikscreen flower designs on the walls. Many of the older women walked around in hambow (traditional Korean outfit that is a sort of tent beginning about 3 inches above the boobs) which was really interesting to see. Ere long, they marched (or shuffled) out the bride and perched her in this bizarre little room with a tulle arching canopy and tea lights and a fussy little chaise, on which her considerable skirts were displayed. She looked pretty but Korean fashion seems prone to excess, it was hard to see her and not be blinded by bedazzled embellishment. Lots 'o sparkle. We took a picture with her, ensconsed in her little princess area, and then went upstairs for a lunch buffet. This was really cool because they had a huge variety of foods to choose from, of which I tried quite a few. They had good sushi, corn salad, fried spring onion, sashimi, meat ball things and a lot of other stuff that I couldn't identify but ate in good faith. Pretty nice. Afterwards, we went back downstairs for the ceremony which was bizarre. It was cabaret style with a plexiglass aisle up the center with fake flowers and string lights underneath. There was also a fake champagne glass mountain and even a fake cake. The bride walked up the aisle to a compilation of odd western romance ballads (Celine made a cameo) and then everyone promtply went back to what they were talking about before she came. From what I was able to hear over the din, the ceremony was pretty short. A choir sang them a song and they bowed to their parents (in the groom's case, a full on floor prostration) before coming back down the aisle and being bombarded with streamers. Throughout the whole thing, the wedding planner hovered like a pesky fly, even butting in during inappropriate moments to tug at some insignificant thread or make the couple hold hands or something...even when they weren't taking pictures. I think this is a cultural difference, but the whole thing seemed displayed. They never looked affectionate (even hand shakes were forced by the wedding planner) and there was no kiss in the ceremony. Oh well, she looked happy enough so I think this must be normal over here.


Then...yesterday. I got it into my head that it would be a great idea to get out of the city and explore a national park nearby. It did turn into a spectacular day but took its pound of flesh. We bussed to a Buddhist temple called Dongkhasa, had a look around at the really ornate and colorful roof and eaves, and started up the trail. UP being the operative word here. Precisely 3 hours of unrelenting up, in fact. This was compounded by the fact that the trail was not forgiving dirt but more like a loosely arranged avalanche of rocks that was meant to be some sort of a staircase. AND, Koreans don't seem to understand the value of a switchback so it was essentially 3 hours of clambering straight on up one of their very dramatic mountainsides. Once it got bad, we literally had to stop every fifty feet. Along the way up, we there was a stone pagoda thing with incense and recorded chanting that had a really nice view of the altitude we had gained and looked into the surrounding mountains. We continued, and I was basically crawling up the rocks at this point and seriously considering turning back when we hit the ridge and went down just as drastically as we went up. This part was much more fun, we literally flew down the mountain with the aid of some handle rails where the rocks got steep. The last of the trail descended along this pretty little creek to the temple of Gapsa, and there we were, a mere 5 hours after setting out from Dongkhasa.


This temple was better, in my opinion, because one of the buildings had hundreds and hundreds of mini golden Buddhas behind a bigger version. That interior literally glowed from them, it was so pretty. I couldn't resist a taboo and likely disrespectful picture. There were also all of these orderly prayer flags or lanterns or decorations covering quite a chunk of the interior ceilings. They were even writing prayers on each new shingle used to upkeep the roof. It was cool seeing people chanting and praying and prostrating themselves, I have never really seen this religion enacted and it was a nice introduction. I did find it ironic that Buddhist doctrine seems to have become engrained in the very landscape surrounding the temples, however-- suffering before enlightenment, indeed. We hopped a taxi back to Daejeon, in which I promptly fell asleep, and had sausage, potatoes and beer for dinner at Weisenhous, at which I also promptly fell asleep. Sheer exhaustion made a grumpy dinner companion out of me and made my bed feel like paradise. I borrowed Asteria's camera for it, so expect facebook pictures soon! Today, my calf muscles have conducted a full scale revolt against my nervous system in protest of yesterday but not a bad weekend.

Love, me