Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wrapping Up

Things are wrapping up here in Korea.

I've got about two weeks to go. Two busy weeks of trying to make the most of every moment. Tomorrow's my last day teaching. I asked for the last week off in order to take care of errands without the stress of rushing around. I plan to visit the school again during my "vacation" so that I can say final goodbyes, talk to the kids again, and hand out thank-you cards. Ah, I don't like goodbyes.

I said goodbye to my Australian friend this morning. I helped her call a taxi so she could head off to meet her family in Hong Kong for some travelling time. The taxi driver was baffled by the two suitcases she carried to the curb. Apparently, Korean people don't need so many bags while moving away. Still, through his "Aigooooo" 's and struggles to fit the bags in his car, my friend and I chuckled and gave each other hugs. It felt significant to be speaking to the driver in Korean as I helped send my friend off. A mark of how this place has changed me. Then, as it was 4:30 in the morning, I crawled back into bed and slept restlessly until my third alarm went off.

I have so many things I want to start doing when I get back home. All are because of my experiences here. I feel like the motivation is truly there this time. I just hope that I can accomplish some of those dreams and goals.

I have so many things I need to take care of before heading out, all of which involve the people I've met in Korea. I have thank-you cards to write; friends to track down; last-minute souvenirs to buy; last-minute friends to make (it will happen, whether I want it to or not); favorite Korean food to savor before it becomes too far out of reach; .... ah, the list goes on.

At school, I'm making pinatas with the 1st and 2nd graders. The 3rd and 4th graders are learning to move in time with Daft Punk via notecards and dance moves. The 5/6 graders made a time capsule. I hope that they don't truly lose it and it never gets opened.

I'd like to come to Korea again. I'd like to continue studying the language. I'd like to see all the friends I've made here in the future (whenever that time may come). I have so many hopes now, so many dreams. I pray that God will help me find the right path, and walk with me along it.

'Til next time,

Monday, January 14, 2013

Growing Up

I'm sitting at my desk. I hear the squeaky voice of a 6th grader I know in the stairwell. Why is he here, I think. Then more voices pour down from the upstairs classrooms and into the stairwell. Why are all the 6th graders here so suddenly?

Awww. The sixth graders are going to a middle school today. I don't (of course) have all the details, but it sounds like some sort of field trip. I week or so ago, one 6th grader told me that they would all find out which middle school they'll be going to on some day in January. Perhaps this is that day. But it seems strange for them to all be meeting at school in order to visit their future middle schools. Maybe it's like a shuttle service provided by the elementary school. Hmm. I'll have to ask when they come back.

'Til next time,

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pain Is Gain?

Dear trainer,

Just because I'm not sweating buckets does not mean that I'm not sweating. 있어! 있어! It's there, I promise!

Dear reader,
I have decided that ab workouts are not worth the pain. They just aren't. Period. As we speak, I am coughing and can feel my stomach muscles twinge with soreness at every cough.

Dear trainer,
I applaud you for learning an English phrase to say to me the next time you see me. I, too, should learn some new Korean phrases to say to you.

Dear reader,
Haha, he told me he had practiced some English. I said, "Ok," and waited for him to speak. "Do work out?" he asked.  I smiled. He asked in Korean if I understood. "Yes!" I told him, and answered him. Then I told him he did a good job, and he walked away very proud of himself.

My phone friend gave me the heads up, actually. It seems that the trainer will consult with my phone friend (or the other Korean friend who now joins us at the gym from time to time) before coming to talk to me. On the treadmill my friend tells me what the trainer has told him. "He told me he learned a new phrase. He wants to practice English."  Oh really? I wait. It happens.

I'm thinking that it must be a little frustrating not being able to speak to me so easily. The trainer, who makes an effort to get to know all the members very well and give help when needed, can talk to the others so easily. Yet, to talk to me requires studying and the help of a translator. Yeah, sorry dude.

Anyways, I have signed up for another month of gym so that: we can become good friends; I can exercise as much as possible while here (I probably won't once I return home. I know it already); I can continue to support my other friends as they work out; I won't be absolutely bored at home.

A healthy body will probably help me fight off this sore throat that the stupid winter air has bestowed upon me. Oh, but the one downside to making new friends at this point in time is that I'll be leaving soon. :(

'Til next time,


Note: This was written many days ago. I'll just post it as is.


For the past two weeks, I've been going to the gym with my phone friend and another TaLK scholar. It's come to the point where I feel like an old person when I get up in the morning. Even though I stretched and took a long shower, my muscles tighten up again while I sleep, and I wake up slightly sore. I regret doing those sit-ups and leg-raises two nights before. My stomach still protests when I go to lay down from a sitting position.

There's certain kinds of exercise pain I readily accept, and others I readily despise. For instance, I really don't mind my legs hurting after a bike ride because I enjoyed the bike ride. I do mind my arms being sore to the point of being almost unusable because I decided to do a few reps on the machine. Ugh~!

The people at the gym have been interesting. The owner was a body builder. His wall-size posters are displayed on the walls of the gym room. He looks much smaller than the muscly image of his past, yet still very fit. Personally, I never want to have that many muscles. A few is fine. On the entrance door, and on the way to the girls locker room is a picture of a totally ripped female body builder. She's sporting a high-cut one-piece and wearing high heels. I can't help but snicker every time I look at it.

The female employee... I keep looking at her to see if maybe she's the one in the poster. I don't think so. Acutally, when I first met her, I was a little wary of her. I couldn't tell exactly what kind of smile she was giving me. My stupid defenses went up. Over time, I've come to know her as friendly and helpful. She keeps an eye on my only long enough to make sure I'm using the machines properly. There's a third person. He's an assistant (?). I don't know what his relation is to the other two, but he's just as friendly and knowledgeable about every client's exercising needs. He must have found it amusing that two foreigners were coming to exercise with their Korean friend; that he had to give instructions to us through our friend; that our friend spoke English so well. Turns out, he knows a bit of English as well (words associated with the gym). He's also becoming a regular friend to us. He learned our names, said mine was hard to pronounce (well, sheesh, all my students can say it just fine!).

That's all I wrote on that day. I'll write more about the gym later.
'Til next time,

It's Good For Your Health!

Yes, I'm sure it is, but can you do something about the taste?

Yesterday afternoon, I went to my favorite "toast" shop for some quick dinner. I came in the store coughing, and one of the shop owners handed me a packet of instant tea mix along with my order. She explained something about the tea to me, though I assumed she was just telling me to drink it for my cough. I thanked her (it really was nice of her) and headed home. At home, I made the tea. I could smell ginseng. Uht-oh.

Now, when my mom came to visit, she was all about looking for healthy teas to drink for diet and whatnot. Jecheon is known for it's herbal concoctions, and so in our search we came across Ginseng tea. Ginseng tea by itself tastes horrible. It's almost impossible to drink... at least for me it is. Whereas my mom and phone friend managed to drink all in their paper cup, I couldn't bring myself to finish the last 1/3 amount.

So, I was wary about this tea that I had just made. Little chopped nuts were floating in it as well. Part of the mix. I wondered if that affected the taste much. I hesitantly took a spoonful and slurped it up. What? It tastes different... I thought. Hmm. I took a sip from the cup. It was a slightly sweet, slightly ginseng-y, but overall bearable cup of tea. The nuts were a bit of a distraction, but I drank it all.

In every Korean-food-related experience I've had here, the phrase, "It's good for your health," has always come up. If I hesitate to eat the unknown morsel, my MT is quick to use this phrase. So I try it, and I either like it or put up with it. Most of my food experiences here have been good, but I still find it hard to believe that such a phrase can be used so lightly. I feel like, at some point, something got lost in translation. Surely, they mean to say, "It's ok to eat,"  or "It tastes alright."

If you come to Korea, be willing and ready to try the cuisine (I'm not referring to foreign food that has been "Koreanized").  Chances are it'll be good for your health.

'Til next time,


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year from Jungdongjin!

What'd you do for New Years? Was it what you usually do?

Usually (or lately), I've  groggily decided whether or not I'll stay awake til midnight. I eat my mom's holiday dinner, and wait for her to say she can't hold out any longer, that she'll see me next year.  I sit in front of my computer, watching interesting things. I sit in front of the TV watching non-interesting things. The best part of those New Years shows has been watching clips of the fireworks going off all around the world. I didn't want to watch so-n-so's performance. I didn't care what interesting questions, knowledge, and gossip the hosts had to spew to the nation's viewers.  Nah, I just wanted to watch the ball drop, drink a glass of Welch's Sparkling Grape Juice, and maybe wake my mom up to wish her Happy New Year.  Without any "official traditions" in my family, it's easy to do nothing during the holidays and be okay with it.

I'm really glad that I did something different this year. I'm thankful to my friend for inviting me on an awesome trip to the East coast for a tradition popular for many Koreans: watching the first sunrise of the New Year. The train trip was almost 4 hours, but that didn't take away from the fun. We walked for hours in the cold, trying to get a room to spend the night in (for some reason, that didn't occur to us beforehand to take care of). There were ajummas everywhere, hawking the passersby and looking for hotel/motel rooms to sell at high prices. It was a special event, and the town was small. They'd already known that desperate people like us would be coming. We ate dinner at a "Mexican Chicken" restaurant. I'm not sure which items on the menu made the chicken Mexican though, because we ordered regular fried and regular sauce (the two things I could readily recognize on the menu). The place was packed, but one of the staff quickly fashioned us a table in front of the cashier counter (who needs that, anyway?), and we wolfed down our food when it came.

There was a moment (before finally getting a room) where a little old lady asked us if we wanted a place to stay. We watched her a bit earlier as she asked various Korean passersby, and they politely declined her request. For some reason, when she asked us, we said yes and followed her. She had pointed to a building we'd already walked to, so maybe she had connections or something, we thought. No. Turns out she was pointing past that building. WAY past it. She led us past the building, into the road and across it, and then there were no lights. From the brightness of the town behind us, we could see two dark buildings appear down a dark lane that went downhill. We stopped the lady, apologized for making her lead us this far (she had taken us pretty far), and told her we didn't want the room (in the best Korean/English we could).

We DID eventually get a room (a room. no bed. a super old turn-the-knob tv. lots of blankets, pillows, and ondol flooring); a complimentary toothbrush for each; and a key that didn't successfully lock the door. Well, that's what we get for not booking a place ahead of time. Still, it was so much better than staying outside all night long. You do not know how amazing ondol flooring is in the winter!  We took a short 20 minute nap, then headed back into the cold, crowded night. On the beach, heavily-clothed people were sending lanterns into the sky, setting off fireworks, and taking lots of pictures. We did those things, too. My friend smartly brought a box of hot chocolate packets on the trip. We filled our TaLK travel mugs with hot water from the convenience stores we passed, and toured the area, stopping every now and then to do something fun like light a firework, get snuck up on by the rising tide of the sea, and write on lanterns that would be sent into the night sky.

Near the beach was a small park with the world's largest hour glass. This hour glass was actually in the shape of a disk. It held enough sand to fall for exactly one year, and at every new year the disk would be pushed to the opposite side of the track it rested on. When we got to it, we couldn't really see if any sand was falling or not. It didn't look like it. Yet, after midnight came and the planned fireworks display finished, we rushed back over to the park (we had been about to light fireworks of our own down at the beach... totally lost track of time) to find that the hour glass had been moved. In the center one of the triangular windows showed sand falling in small spurts.

The night was good, but the adventure wasn't over. There was still the sunrise to see. We grumbled to each other about the fact that the sun was scheduled to rise at 7:44 AM. Who wants to stay up for New Years and then wake up early and go back into the cold? But we needed to. That's why we'd come! When our alarms went off, we discussed whether or not we should get up after all, finally decided it was for the best, and headed back into the cold. The beach was quickly filling up with people. Cars lined the streets everywhere. We found  good spot and stared out at the horizon. Many more lanterns were flown, many more personal fireworks went off. There was one heart-shaped lantern that had been released into the air, only to race downward to the sea. Inches from the water's grasp, it bounced a bit here and there, finally regaining control and altitude. The crowd watched all this with the utmost intensity. There was a unified "Oh!" when it dipped, an "Oooo," when it stopped short of the water and bounced along, and an "Ooooh," when it took to the air steadily.

Though we watched our clocks carefully, we almost missed the sunrise. Someone in the crowd shouted, "Oh!" and everyone turned their heads to the right. A tiny, blushing ball wrapped in thin clouds rose up above an antique war ship that rested on the coast. Oh, it was going to rise over there? We're at the East Sea, though. Why are we all facing north? Still, it was a cute sunrise. Funnily enough, it only appeared at the horizon. Then as it rose completely above the horizon, it disappeared into the cloud haze. Perhaps the elements were being considerate for the people who had waited an hour in the zero degree hours of the day to greet the first sun of the year. Well, I'm certainly thankful.

I may've also spotted some famous people at the beach, though my failure at remembering all the faces of the latest Korean stars only left me speculating.

'Til next time,

A New Day

Happy Birthday To Me!

Things can be so much nicer when you just go with the flow. For my birthday, the only thing I planned was to arrive in Seoul. The rest was up to chance. Ok, not quite. I made a mental list of things that "would be totally awesome if they happened," which included seeing friends I hadn't seen in months, and going ice skating. In the end, here's what happened.

My friend Leanne and I arrived in Seoul around two. She correctly suggested that I go get a pretzel from Auntie Anne's before we left the mall/train station. Yummy pretzels in hand, we headed for the subway to Hongdae. There was noodle- and pizza-eating, dessert crepe- (the Asian kind) eating, old friend- meeting, and an interesting hour in a cat cafe. Cat cafes are kind of awkward. Yes, the cat's are there. Yes, they each have their various moods (and thus should be handled accordingly... or not at all). Yes, we can touch them, and suck up warm fuzzy feelings from being in their presence. Still, there was the fact that a shop full of other customers were vying for these cats' attentions. Plus, half of the lot were sleeping, and we weren't allowed to pick them up. One man (whom one of my friends guessed was the significant other of one of the workers) sat in a chair while a fluffy persian rested on the table in front of him, and a few minutes later, in his lap. This man paid absolutly no attention to the cat, only raised his cellphone to eye level and continued to sit there. My friend fumed at this. The active cats had been actively avoiding our table, teasing us every once in awhile by sneaking up under our table. By the time we realized they were there, they slinked away, ducking under our outreached hands. Perhaps we should've gone to the dog cafe...

There was also a trip to the noraebang. In between all of this were many text messages from friends I'd met in Seoul long ago and was trying to meet again. I ended up finding some of them, and by the end of the night, had made even more new friends (Oh? You invited your friends? ...That's cool). Five hours after this whole thing'd started, a bunch of us took a taxi to Itaewon. We found a ... pub? It felt more like a "pub" than a "bar"... well, we found one and while the others drank their favorites, I feasted on Sprite and potato wedges. There, another friend found our group and we all began catching up on events.

We bar hopped, but just one hop, and I helped a friend find a gyros restaurant to sooth his hunger pangs. I discovered that the bar, Magpie, was one I had just learned about in a documentary a few weeks ago. I must find that documentary again and post it here. By midnight, I found myself invited to Cheongju to crash and maybe extend the festivities the next day.

My friend Jessica and I watched Les Miserables after breakfast at Dunkin Donuts. (Nothing like a fast food chain to break your pattern of Korean cuisine)! I headed to the train station after buying some souvenirs for people back home, and had to wait two hours for the next train (again... no worries! Go with the flow! ...That's what I get for not checking the schedule. And being inclined to train rides). Nevertheless, I got home just in time to relax and get ready for classes the next day.

It's strange, but the day BEFORE my birthday felt really special for some reason. It started to snow, which made me smile. I had a super-easy day at school. After school, I visited a coffee shop I hadn't frequented in awhile, and the shop owner chatted with me (never really happens). The day just felt special. I felt happy on my last day of being 22 years old. I wondered if the actual birthday would feel a certain way (one that I didn't create). In the past, I've usually had to celebrate my birthday early (friends on vacation or with family during the holidays). That special, surprising feeling the day before my birthday felt kind of like an early birthday present. Like someone saying, don't just celebrate the first day. Celebrate the last day, too.

'Til next time,