Sunday, November 29, 2009

Concerning Thaaaaaaaanksgiving!


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.


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 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!!


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 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!!



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!



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!