Sunday, May 30, 2010

Concerning coming to term(s)

The title is a bad pun...I've been here nine months! This week was hit by a snaggle as I became a newly initiated insomniac. Ick. I've always been really solid with sleep and it definitely messed with my head to have that disrupted. From about Sunday night to Wednesday night, I would drift into a very light daydream-y sleep for hours and hours until I would finally get from one to three hours of decent REM before the morning. Not awful, I managed to mostly keep a good mood, but Thursday I waved the white flag when I came down with a sore throat. That night I seriously went to bed at 9 and didn't move for 11 hours and while I didn't sleep that whole time, I finally accumulated a solid amount. This weekend I also caught up a bit. I'm not normal yet, it still takes me forever to settle into really thick sleep but I'm at least reassured that it's not serious.

This weekend, probably from resting up, was relaxed. Friday night I caught Prince of Persia which was the best bad movie I've seen in a while. I certainly enjoyed Jake Gyllenhall's abs but my friend and I were reduced to giggling hysterics by the clumsy script and plot. I was really entertained though and I suppose there's little difference between laughing at and with a movie, it was a success. Saturday morning I had a much needed skype convo with my momma and then met my friend downtown for a Thai massage. First, they served me shockingly blue tea in these awesome elephant tea cups, and then on to the main event. It was bliss, very different from the tried and true Swedish variety. For one, they had me wear these PJ type things. I later found out their practicality for two reasons. One, my massage was in a room with four other people. Two, it was basically sport yoga without any of the effort- my masseuse contorted my body into positions the like of which I will likely never experience again and woke up muscles previously dormant and innocuous. So not quite a nakie environment. It also involved little massage perse, it was more lots and lots of pressure points (with amazing kung-fu like agility and strength I might add- she put one finger on one little point on my shoulder blade and it felt like my whole back imploded) and lOTS of stretching. At points, it bordered on painful and I bad to definitely breathe deeply but my worked my body well and I was relaxed so job done. And only 50 bucks for an hour. I might do that again before I leave, who knows.

After that, my friend and I went and got some delicious steam pork buns and decided we wanted to go for a drive. We went out of the city, past Yuseong, past the National Cemetary (where the Cheonan victims are buried by the way), past Donghaksa, to this little artist village. It was sheer nirvana to get out of the city, I always feel like a drowning man clutching at straws when finally get a shot at fresh air and green. There was a sharp chill in the otherwise balmy city air which totally made it feel like Seattle and between that, the rolling lush emerald hills, reflective rice paddies, and delicious quiet, it was lovely.

Today I got up and worked out, and then had a picnic with my friend. We attempted to rent bikes and go down to the river only to be entirely thwarted by the very complicated renting machine. Oh well, we walked around Government Complex and ate to the very civilized background of classical music coming from the Art Center. There was quite literally no cloud in the sky and it was robin's egg blue. We popped into this dinky little museum and saw some bizarre art supposedly about the sense of humor (there was lots of poop memorabilia...) and then lay down on some benches to soak up the sun and the breeze. I got my first little shade of summer color and then took a very necessary and very heavy two hour Sunday afternoon nap. Mmm mmmm.

Regarding the summer vacation update, the latest decision is Jeju Island. We were going to go to Laos or Vietnam but I just realized it would be a poor replacement to Thailand (because of the protest instability...) and I'd rather go back and do that area properly when I have a few weeks. This way I can thoroughly cross Korea off of my list. Also, recently the predictable homesickness has popped back up but nothing I can't handle. I credit mom and dad with holding it off for two months, impressive and much appreciated.

I also had a nice talk with Shayna tonight and we had a very interesting and appealing revelation about my time here. I was joking that my year in Korea didn't "fix me" as promised, delivering the perfect career and life path that I probably did half-expect upon coming here. To be fair, I was still in the blind panic of graduation and the crippling indecision of infinite possibilities in August so it's understandable I craved that from my year here. Well, Korea didn't fix my indecision but I realized it did start to fix my outlook. I'm slightly different, I'm more relaxed to let the journey take me where it will and I'll find my way in time. I've had to battle so many things this year that being scared about my future just sort of fell to the wayside somewhere. I'm not saying it's completely anxiety-free but I'm at peace with it. So that's well worth knowing and a nice, satisfying development to see in myself.

As these reflections might hint, things have taken a turn in my mind towards the end. I tried to resist it but I can't shake the thought that I'm finally there, the home stretch, the last quarter, less than 90 days and then...

Well, not quiet "then" yet. Lots of adventure to be had, still chances to "love the reeling midnight through" in these summer months. Bye for now!! :)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Concerning Buddha's Birthday

Last week, on Sunday, I went to Seoul for the Lantern Festival, honoring Buddha's birthday which is May
21st every year. The first stop we made was at Bongeunsa which I think is the biggest temple in Seoul and it was amazing, its entire courtyard was covered in a red and white paper lantern ceiling, a riot of color and celebration. We walked around the grounds, saw a cool big Buddha statue and sat for a time inside the temple itself, watching people muttering and rocking while fingering their way through a strand of prayer beads (reminiscent of a Catholic rosary) and going through the motions of prostrating bows. It was kind of interesting to have that part of the temple- complete with a pervading scent of incense and profundity- interact with the loud colors and the cheerful crowds of the holidays, jostling outside in front of the domineering Seoul skyline. In an adjacent building, we saw a lantern exhibition which was stunning. I had never thought of lanterns as a medium of art, more decoration, but they have evolved it into a serious means of expression and creativity. Gone are the repetitive lotus paper molds, it has exploded into a significant collaboration between sculpture and painting. We saw paper replicas of kings, traditional drums, angel wings, and more abstract pieces. As the room was dark, the lanterns photographed beautifully and we had a lot of fun. After, we went north of the river (mom and dad- Jongak station, right where we were!) for the actual festival. There were lots of tents set up where you could make your own lotus lantern with petals of paper, someone handed us Buddha tokens, informational booths, and then at the end was another temple, even more lavishly coated with lanterns. This formation had a taeguuki (Korean flag) in the middle. There were some Tibetan monks doing a traditional sand drawing which was cool and we got to tie some wishes on a giant kite string. At the temple, there was also a bronze statue of Buddha absolutely festooned with flowers and ivy placed over a little pond in a shrine. People would come up, take a dipper, symbolically bathe the Buddha and bow their respect afterword. We grabbed some pah-jang (spring onion pancake) and mandu before watching a bit of the parade which was more lit and painted lanterns in procession with some monks and various groups of people. It was a close call getting back but we did and it was a fun day.

This week was a pretty busy one. I feel like I've gotten pretty close to Brown as of late, I read them extra stories and they call me "Becky Mommy" which yes, does totally mess with my head sometimes. Clearly it's halfway between a joke and a lesson in child psych but seeing them every weekday has definitely formed a bond there. Also, on the other end of the spectrum, my most advanced students decided that I was the best teacher they'd ever had at the school, and they've been here like 3 years which totally warmed me to the cockles of my heart.

I learned a bit more about Korean belief as well, talking with some friends. Divorce is still extremely stigmatized, to the point where one told me a story of her Aunt forbidding her cousin to remarry after his wife died because his girlfriend was divorced, not a widow. Also, children are sometimes viewed as synonymous with the idea of marriage. I don't mean that most people strongly desire to have kids in their lives (that's not unique to Soko), but that most people think less of a marriage without them. Hmm. I absolutely want kids at some point but I also defend the right for others to decide. Kids should be a choice and a privilege, not an obligation. Not everyone I saw believed this, but it was indeed fun to discuss with those that did.

Wednesday night I had another new Korean dining experience- shabu kalguksu which was delicious. First, we cooked mushrooms and greens in this broth until it was boiling. Then, we added paper thin, frozen bits of beef which cooked on contact. The result was a spicy soup, course 1. Course 2 we added kalguksu noodles which was my favorite part. Course 3, they spooned out most of the broth and made fried rice with green onion. All for under 5 bucks. LOVE IT!

Thursday night, another coworker and I went out for ramen and then to a popular western bar. We met some of her friends, played darts, shamelessly flirted with the two hottest guys there (one French...mon dieu....and another Australian) and I called it a night at 3. Then, because Friday began the actual 3 day weekend holiday, I went to Busan with a friend. We arrived in time to get about 20 minutes of watery sun before it began to set but it was nice to sit on the beach. We took a long walk all around the beach area after it was dark and really got a feel for Busan. It definitely has the whimsical and surreal feeling of an English coastal resort- lots of lights and ferris wheels. After walking for quite some time, buying red bean paste doughnuts, and being given a charred marshmallow like dessert which was good, we went to the jjimjilbang to spend the night. Apparently, most are open 24 hours and have a nap room so they are a good, cheap, place to crash.

It started well- they had some really nice pools overlooking the ocean (as funny as it felt being naked and spying on people on the beach...), very relaxing and pretty to see the lights at night. Then came the sleeping part. It was a huge room with about 200 people in it, and many either congestively or aromatically challenged. The lights were one until 6 in the morning along with two TVs, people answered their phones and talked loudly...quiet wasn't even a far dream. Somewhere around 4 I made myself into a Becky lollipop by wrapping one of the blanket/mat things around my head just to try and get some dark and quiet. I maybe slept an hour, which is why the next morning started with a grande coffee. We went to the biggest department store in the world, I bought some cute green plaid converse, saw Robin Hood (chaotic plot but fun, energized cinematography and pretty shots of England) and then I realized that I was going on 6 hours with no food, lots of caffeine, and no sleep. So, we went to the nearest restaurant and then walked around the Jagalchi Fish Market which was similar to Pike for all of you Seattlites but way more raw around the edges. Long, silver fish flowed out of their bowls, tails resting on the ground where the inaugural monsoon season had formed a lake. Occasionally, we had to dodge some fish guts, these women know how to wield a knife. It was definitely another peak of what I expected to see here.

Thoroughly wet, we opted for an earlier train and I slept a good 12 hours to shake off the previous two nights. Up next, planning summer vacay and HOPEFULLY some proper summer weather though the forcast looks like lots o rain. Oh well. I'll be back soon and I promise to try and undo my bad once every two week habit!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Concerning the end of winting

Winting = spring + winter. Despite the absolutely stunning flowers, spring was a no-show weather wise. It was time for the warm, unpredictably sunny times of spring and we got the frozen nights of winter. Hence, winting. But, now winter went to winting, bypassed spring, and catapulted straight to summer. 80 degrees, humid, and sunny- hello! Becky is happy.

My happy m
ood from Mom and Dad, as predicted, has stuck around. Let's see...the last few weeks. I tried a new food- dak galbi. Basically, it's rice-cake pasta (some cheese stuffed) stir fried with chili sauce, chicken, and cabbage. And then covered with cheese. And then the remains are stir fried with rice. Mmmmm. I also tried a new kind of BBQ- dweji galbi. I thought galbi meant beef but apparently it just refers to the cut of meat. Dweji galbi is really tender, flavorful, lean pork so I'm a big fan, it's my new favorite Korean food.

That wee
kend was pretty relaxed. I met Nakeesa for her birthday at a bar and we had a nice night. This week's highlight was Strawberry Picking Day on Thursday. We bussed one hour outside of Daejeon with the kiddies. We all (including moi) picked and ate as many strawberries as could fit in our containers and bellies and then the kids got to make some jam. They squished the berries all up, got juice in places that gravity would deem impossible, and had a fantastic time. After they were done, we bussed back and Emily passed out on my lap which was really endearing.

This weekend, Saturday, I went to Everland. This is the biggest amusement park in South Korea. We wen
t on some rides, including the steepest wooden roller coaster in the world, got some ridiculous headbands, ate junk food...good day. On the slow train back a Korean university student offered to "buy me banana milk" before his friend leaned over and asked how his girlfriend was, haha. Sunday, I met Helen for brunch at an Italian restaurant and then went shopping and for coffee, enjoying the gorgeous weather.

Wednesday was a very welcome break from work as it was Kid's Day. This is actually a Korean national holiday that was created to raise awareness of child welfare during the Japanese occupation of the country. Originally, the Japanese forbade the holiday because they thought it was a subversive nationalist movement but it prevailed and survived to its present day candy and break from school reincarnation. I worked out in the morning and met a friend at the jjimjilbang for some good, old-fashioned relaxation. We had lunch on the rooftop terrace, bounced from hot rooms (with gorgeous stone mosaics mostly ranging from 50 degrees C to about 75 degrees C) to the i
ce room and back as our temperature allowed. It was so so so nice. We finished out the hot room portion by trying the dreaded 112 degree C room. Holy moly, that is honestly the hottest thing I have ever felt in my life without getting burned. No mosaics here, it literally looked like the inside of a kiln and I suddenly felt some sympathy for all of my projects in ceramics class last year. We forced ourselves to stay for one minute but the second we got to 60, we bolted. The hair was so hot and leaden we couldn't properly inhale, so 60 seconds was definitely enough for me. After, I showed her the sauna part of things and we showered and then went on our way. A mere 3 and a half hours after beginning, I left happy and essentially boneless.

Thursday the teachers all went out for Vietnamese to welcome Tracy, our new teacher. I had some decent pho' though Kels- the one we went to was better. Saturday, we all had to come into work for Sport's Day. We bussed to a mountain and had teachers waiting at different
stations along a loop path that the kids and their families were sent down. The flowers were perfect and the trees were lush and green, it was a lovely place. My post did a treasure hunt and that was kind of it. I liked playing with my kids a bit, always fun. School took us out for lunch after which was nice, more dweji galbi, mm mmmmm, and then I napped a bit before going out last night.

This club was one of the weirdest experiences in Korea yet. It was called a "booking club" where Koreans go to meet each other and get together. Basically, we were in a huge room (with a Safeco style roof that opened and closed) with many many many tables. The waiters would come around and grab girls and take them to other tables to introduce them to guys. Sometimes this was OK, we met some really nice, young, guys who spoke English really well. But the 4 times we were taken back into the "VIP rooms" to the 50 year old men...not so fortunate. The other really funny thing was the entertainment. As I've said time and again, Korea is fairly conservative across the board but there were live strippers for most of the evening. Cowboys. French women. Clowns. A guy in drag with an alligator G-string. I must say, I was NOT bored. It was a great laugh and worth the 3 AM home time.