One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chopsticks: The Eternal Battle

Yes, the stereotype is true. Koreans eat just about everything with chopsticks. Chopsticks are their fork AND knife (you won't find a knife) and if they could engineer chopsticks to work with soup, I'm sure they'd eat that with them too. In fact, that sounds like an excellent new product!  (If I've talked to you about inventing a new money making product that I'd use to travel the world with, then I'll tell you what, we'll go in half-sies  ;)    I can see this really taking off: metal chopsticks that are hollow like straws.  The marketing will go something like this: "Now, you can have your bulgogi and your soup too!"

I don't know how proficient everyone else is with chopsticks (Asians excluded from this, of course), but I could use some improvement. Imagine my dilemma.  Have you ever tried eating noodles or salad with chopsticks? Or, have you ever tried cutting a piece of meat with chopsticks?? It's not easy. I've tried several tactics. The first, the stab method: You actually stab a piece of meat repetitively until the series of punctures literally makes the piece fall apart. Or the second, the divide and conquer: Push the two chopsticks down into one spot of the meat and then push the sticks from one another until they divide the piece in two. Or the third, my personal favorite and probably most effective, but definitely not the prettiest method: the modified fork and knife method. You hold one chop stick in each hand. With one you'd hold the piece down (it is essentially your fork), with the other chopstick, run a cutting line across the meat (it is essentially your knife).  Now I do get looks with this one, so I feel that I should caution you: please only the brave at heart try the last method. 

It’s especially fun trying to eat noodles with chopsticks.  I fiddle with the noodles trying to get them to rest just so and then when I finally get them right where I want them, I move them.  Very.  Very slowly. And just.  as I. am about. To taste . these delicious. Noodles.  They fall to the plate (or possibly my lap) and I have to do it all over again! It’s a fight every day.  I accept the challenge. Bring it on, chopsticks!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Already Exhausted

I've heard that the Korean way is work work work and play hard too. In fact, the children here go to school from 9-4 and then (if they are privileged) they attend after-school tutoring at a private institution (called a Hagwon), which lasts until 8, 9, 10  o'clock at night! These kids then return home to work on homework until the wee hours of the morning. Now, if you know me, then you know that I'm no stranger to burning the midnight oil. . . a tendency that partially stems from my habit of procrastination (sorry Mom: It's a vice, what can I say? It probably won't change too much in my life); but, this is undoubtedly self-inflicted.  I don't think I've ever gone to bed so late from doing school work when it hasn't been because I procrastinated.  On the other hand, these poor kids actually work ALL day for 10 and 11 hours.  It makes my head spin.  I've been experiencing a bit of this culture in my first week of orientation. We start class at 9am and finish around 8, 9, or 10 o'clock at night (granted with breaks, but my brain turns to mush anyhow). Tonight was a late one. We finished working on the next day's lesson plan a little after 10, which brought me to that delusional tired stage when everything seems funny, your mind can't focus on any one topic for more than a minute, your body feels heavy, and your eyes feel so scratchy that you'd like to pull them out. It's a bit tough writing this blog tonight, but I figured if the 7 year old Korean children can do it, so can I. My hat is off to them.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Reminder: Seoul is the 4th Largest City in the World

So I got a little adventurous today.  What started off as a wind-down evening walk around the block turned into a full on adventure in Seoul. There's no need to remind you that it's the 4th largest city in the world.  My roommate at orientation, Anne, and I decided to take a direction. No maps, no knowledge of the neighboring streets, little to no command of the Korean language (Anne having the former and myself, the later).  We took a direction that had the promise of pretty clothing stores and a luring smell from food vendors.  I thought this would be a fairly easy task; walk in a block pattern and I thought that surely we would be bound to end at our starting spot. Come to found out, Seoul was designed long before the car and city planning is not the most organized or logical configuration of all the cities I've seen.  Seoul is a city where you'd walk down the street and see your typical high rise buildings and neon lights and then, hello, an ancient Korean palace.  After about a half hour walk we found that Seoul does not use the block configuration of its contemporaries. Now you might be thinking, "So, turn around and back track."  Well that's not really my style, however smart or not so smart that might sound. We pushed forward thinking, surely we'll find our way back.  After not too long we began walking up a steep series of stairs. I'm talking, a very long series and at the top of this series of stairs was a giant illuminated cross. By the time I got to the top of the hill (or what felt more like a mountain) my pulse was racing. This whole adventure was taking on the feel of a religious pilgrimage. All joking aside, we turned around and it really was something of a religious experience. We had reached a fairly high elevation that was green and peaceful that overlooked a very beautiful part of the downtown that was lit and vivacious. We took a second to appreciate the view, but we were on a bit of a time constraint. It was around  9:45 and the doors locked to our building at midnight.  This was your classic Cinderella pumpkin syndrome. So we wandered a bit longer until we gave in and asked for directions. A nice business man who spoke a little English walked us to the nearest subway station. He urged us to take it, saying that our walk back to our building would take too long. Once we got to the station we found a map that gave us a general idea of where we were and decided to walk the rest instead of taking the subway. Long story, short.. a few more twists and turns and we found our way back. After looking at a map, we found that we had made a huge circle. Alls well that ends well, I guess. We stopped by a convenience store for ice cream to celebrate.  Time in: 11:05 just as it started to pour down with the rain. I think we got out of a possibly bad situation by the hairs of our chin.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Addicted to the whirlwind

Still recovering from the 14 hour direct flight from Atlanta to Seoul, Korea is a whirlwind. I'm loving it here. While I believe that's an honest assessment of my time spent up until now (all of 30 hours ;)), I'm not convinced that it's a completely accurate one. Surely things will slow down and I'll hit a routine like everyone from little Bryson City to Paris seems to find.  It's inevitable that I'll hit a groove and everything will seem a little less spectacular.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't find comfort in routine, but there's something to the movement and bustle of a slightly nomadic life that appeals to me too. It's not as if I want to be without a permanent home forever, though I have friends and family who joke that I can't stay in one place for too long. Perhaps they're right.  I can only try to explain it this way:  It's like the expression, "your eyes were bigger than your stomach," but this time what I want to gobble up is the culture and the lifestyle and the landscapes.  I just have so much I want to see and do.  So for now, I'm addicted to the whirlwind.