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

Friday, July 22, 2011

Korean Expression of the Day

I've decided to start writing some of these down. They're so interesting!

1. When it is raining but the sun is out:
"It's like the fox and the tiger got married."
It means that it's an unlikely pairing. 

I had one of those, "Wow, I'm really living in Asia" epiphanies when my co-teacher told me this one the other day. Since tigers are not indigenous to North America any tiger metaphor gives me a profound sense of where I am in the world. 

2. "A man can only cry three times in his life:  when he is born, when his parents die, and when he loses his country."
It means that men really can't cry in Korean culture. "When he loses his country" is pretty poignant for a country that has been occupied and invaded by China and Japan throughout the centuries.

English as a Foreign Language

Have you ever tried saying a word repeatedly until it sounds foreign?  As English teachers in a foreign country, there are certain English phrases that have been drilled so pointedly that they have become cliché and at times, foreign. Every subject has a standard curriculum so it’s only natural that English would do the same.  The text books we teach from bring an… unique... perspective to the list of vocabulary that is deemed necessary to learning the English language. You might be interested to learn that this is a compilation of some of the commonly used phrases (both correct and incorrect) and some of the commonly taught English phrases in Korea
* A: How are you? B: I'm fine thank you. How are you? -- My students say this greeting like automatons. They don't wait for a response.  It goes like this:  "howareyoui'mfinethankyouhowareyou."  Granted, students are a reflection of their learning environment.  Since they have been asked to give this response at the beginning of every class since the time they were 9 (or younger), it’s only natural that they can’t understand the relevance of the question.

*nowadays--   I had a co-teacher that used "nowadays" to express ANY event that was current.  "Last year I went to the movies a lot, but nowadays I don't have the time." "Nowadays I like yoga better than pilates."   "Nowadays my school work keeps me very busy.” Nowadays. Nowadays. Nowadays.  I don’t remember using this word often, but nowadays I avoid it like the plague.

* So so – I’ve tried desperately to eliminate this response from my students’ vocabulary when I ask them, “How are you?”  I hear it so frequently that it sounds unnatural to respond, “I’m so so.”  I suppose it’s easy for them to remember.

*... a kind of..  – as in “Ja ja myung is a kind of noodle.”  I’m not sure if this is even proper English… it sounds strange to me now.

* I know it well / I do not know it well
*losing your weight—this is not a phrase that is taught in English text books, but every Korean I know says, “Have you been losing your weight?” when they mean to say, “Have you been losing weight?”

*That's too bad!  Entirely over used in Korea!  They don’t use it sarcastically as we do.  When you tell them that your puppy died and they say, “That’s too bad” they really do mean, “That’s too bad. I’m sorry to hear that.”  

* A:Where's ABC Bank? B: Go straight and turn left at the corner. It’s next to the school. You can’t miss it!—I can’t give directions without saying them in a pleasant standard English accent like the one our text book CD Rom uses.  It sounds like a car GPS.  Again, it’s so automatonic.

*Take a rest – As far as I know, this is not taught in textbooks, however, it is used far too often.  I’ve heard some Brits and Canadians give the okay on this expression; it sounds a little unnatural to my ears to use rest as a noun.

*It's difficult/good/interesting/nice— As of lately, I’ve been guilty of using these general expressions because I know that nearly anyone with beginner English can understand. Obviously, Koreans use them because they are simple and they express a very broad idea.  The problem: they are too broad!  I had a Korea friend tell me, “He is good.” … How is he good? You mean that he is kind? He is intelligent? He can ride a bike a tie his shoes at the same time?

*diligent— They use it all the time, so I use it all the time.  The word “diligent” is not misused, but perhaps overused, which, I think, reflects its value in Korean culture.

* I have an appointment or I made a promise… with my friend – Misused in any situation to express general plans. What they mean to say is, “I have plans.”

* He/She said to me—It might just be me, but this phrase could do without the “to me” part.

*In my case – This one sounds weird to me now.

*How about___? Let's ____ -- The 5th grade curriculum has a whole chapter devoted to these two phrases.  They sound a little robotic

* I’m sorry to you/him/her—not taught, but often said incorrectly. What they mean to say is “I’m sorry that I …”   

*I’m expecting—Nope, not pregnancy.  Many Koreans say “I’m expecting…” when they mean to say “I’m excited about…”

*I recommend to you – just take out that “to you.”  Prepositions are hard! With every verb, you have to memorize, first, whether it takes a preposition or doesn’t and, second, which one!  in, to, with, for, on,…,??

* “You are boring” when they mean, “You are bored.” Or “It was funny” when they mean, “It was fun.” It wasn't until second thought that I realized that my co-teachers were not trying to insult me when they said, "You must be boring." 

*try this

* Style – The word style is highly overused!  “That’s Korean style.” “That’s my style.” “He’s my style.” “Those shoes are my style.” “That shirt is American style.”

Again, just a little light hearted fun.  I can't say half of these expressions without a smile on my face.  Unfortunately, I've adopted many of these expressions because I know that A) Koreans know them and will, therefore, understand what I'm saying and B) I hear them so frequently that I can't help but saying them. Either way, they've taken on a new identity-- a Korean identity.  It's a funny sensation to say certain phrases in my native tongue and all the while be thinking, "this sounds mighty foreign."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Korean meal for Sweltering Temperatures

Summer has introduced some excellently refreshing and delicious summer dishes.

Mul Naeng Myeon—a spaghetti hybrid (minus the tomato sauce) is served in ice water with shredded cucumber, radish, a hard-boiled egg, and some spicy chili sauce.  Granted the noodles are not quite spaghetti noodles, but you have the idea.   

Before you right this off and place it with kimchi in the “Not-So-Delectable Korean Cuisine” category (though I happen to like kimchi) let me just say that it is a relatively hearty dish while staying as refreshing as dinner can get.  Refreshing is really the key as temperatures are rising into the 80s and 90s.  While you think, “well, okay, here too,” I could guess that you are probably looking onto those harsh summer temperatures from the other air conditioned side of a window. 

Before summer in Korea hit, I genuinely thought that those traditional folded fans you buy in Asia served purely as tourist souvenirs.  They. do. not.  While my pretty traditional folded fan will soon be hung on a wall at home, it is busy at work in Korea.  I break that puppy out in every classroom and in most buildings because the truth is that a lot of buildings don’t have AC and the ones that do simply don’t use it.

Pat bing su (which sounds a lot like “pot bing Sue”) is snow cone meets ice cream sundae.  I can make it quite easily at home here, but I hope to recreate something close to the real deal in the States.

Step 1) crushed (or if you can get your hands on it) shaved ice

Step 2) sweetened condensed milk. I actually think it’s too sweet with sweetened condensed milk so I use regular milk

Step 3) sweetened red bean paste. Sweetened red bean paste is used in a lot of Korean desserts—in everything from ice cream bars to pastries— I don’t remember seeing anything similar to this in the States.  I hope to find it in a specialty store at home.  All the same, I don’t think it would be hard to make.. . i.e. smash red beans (into the consistency of refried beans) and add a little bit of sugar. Easy, right? OR, and here is where a modification could be made (I’ve never personally tried this, but if you’re feeling adventurous, then please give it a whirl and let me know how it turns out), do use the sweetened condensed milk and use unsweetened red beans.  But whatever you do, don’t forget the beans!! You need your beans!


Step 4) Add whatever other goodies you’d like. My favorite ones are made with fruit and deok (gummy rice cake), but I’ve seen ice cream, yogurt, little candies, corn flakes.. . really.. sky is the limit.

Add it all. You can’t go wrong.
Step 4) Consume and cool off


The Start of the Goodbye Song

Korea has come alive with the warm weather (and so have I).  I’ll admit that the desolate winter-scape, dirty and gray, threatened to give me the winter blues.  Then came spring, whispering at us.  If not for a quiet, “hello” from the azalea, Japanese cherry tree, and magnolia it might have been missed all together.   Now the yucca and rose are in bloom and the parks are speckled with couples.  The rice paddies, brimming with water and neon green, mirror images of hunched men in cone shaped hats.
The ever rising temperature is a reminder that my time here is coming to a quick end. 

**Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago.  It was a beautiful day. I was laying in the park with my computer. We also hadn't hit monsoon season yet. I can't eloquently describe this time of year.  Simply put: some days it rains ALL day and getting wet is unavoidable**

Blog post ADD

I must have a unique and very selective form of ADD. I recently looked through my files and found 4 or 5 half written thoughts on Korea.  I’ve been doing the same with books recently.  A quick scan and hmm.. Let’s see.. 5 books dog eared on pages 52, 16, 43, 120, 213… I can only explain it with this monologue:  “Look, it’s so pretty and shinny! OoOo, this one is nice. But wait! Look at that one!”  The same thought progression must apply to my experiences/observations in Korea.  Having not posted much recently, a friend asked if things had become habitual. In a lot of ways, it has.  I’m comfortable, there are fewer surprises; but even daily life in Korea is so very different from daily life in the States.  Honestly, Korea, it’s not you! It’s me!

The next couple of posts will be a simple copy and paste from my files. They are rough, incomplete, and even a little directionless.  Sorry :-/ … I’ve got to clean out the cupboard before I can start fresh or I might never stop this meandering writing sequence.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Petite Atlantis: UNCOVERED

If you're looking for a transient escape from Korea (as some friends and I were) then "Petite France" in Seoul can certainly satiate that appetite, both in a figurative and literal sense of the word.  While most restaurants advertise French and Italian cuisine, don't let the combination throw you. We ate at a restaurant called "La Trouvaille" and shared a Camembert and apple pizza (a sweet and savory flavor that was outstanding!), Shrimp Spaghetti Rose, and a ham and emmental tarte flambee.

Prior to leaving, I had scoured google search results (in vain) to find details or directions for Seorae Maul (서래 마을)- the allusive French village in Seoul.  There isn't a wealth of information about the area- a strategy, I'm guessing, to keep this intimate side street village from becoming a tourist mob scene.  

What I knew:   From what I could gather online, there was a fairly sizable French population living in Seoul (supposedly 60% of the French population in Korea lives in this one neighborhood)... and as you know, where the French are to be found, so is good food and wine.  And that, my friends, I was willing to scour all of Seoul to find. 

What I thought I knew:   Getting there would be a cinch!  After all, the directions online were rather easy.

What I found out:  The directions online were rather vague.  I began to question if it existed at all.  But alas! We found "Petite Atlantis: the Lost Village of Culinary Supremacy."  A nice man who spoke some English pointed us in the right direction. I'm afraid that we would have never found it without his help. 

The ambiance, though subtle and not entirely French, was not Korean.  So what is it about this area that gives it a uniquely French identity? We saw only a handful of people speaking French so I couldn't attribute the ambiance to that necessarily.  Some street and restaurant signs were written in French; but even that was such a small detail that if you didn't know to look for it, you could very well miss it.  There's a school, Lycee Francais de Seoul, for the locals, but it was closed and dark while we were there.  
Example of one of the street signs we saw. Watch out! Don't get towed!

I tried to put my finger on it and I believe it boils down to one word: leisure.  As Americans, we don't truly understand leisure.  Koreans understand it to an even lesser degree.   There was a slowness to Seorae Maul.  The air wasn't as thick with people rushing about; and as they ate and drank they did it, not as a means to an end, but as an end. 

Several reviews online said they were disappointed to find that this neighborhood didn't offer much.  I have to wonder what they were looking for.  Perhaps a minature Tour D'Eiffel or a French painter wearing a barret? I was pleased enough to sit on a terrace on a warm night, eating good food and wine, and sharing it with good company.  


Directions:   can take subway lines 3, 7, or 9. Get off at the Express Bus Terminal Subway Station. From there, take exit 5 (It's a long walk in the subway). You will walk straight out from the exit, on this nicely shaded walking path, tall apartment buildings will be on your right and the "river" (dried up) will be on your left.  You'll walk for about 10 minutes until you see a pedestrian crossing bridge on the left. It's big and tall. You can't miss it. Cross the bridge and take the stairs down to the left. Once you're at the bottom you'll take nearly an immediate right at the light. Walk about 100 yards and you'll begin to see signs in French. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Everyday I'm Shufflin'!

Shuffling like this is cool....

I've been rocking a more geriatric shuffle....

because ....

I have three lovely blisters on my right foot, one on my left, and calves that resemble rocks. Yay! ...

Last weekend Daejeon hosted their annual Barefoot Masai Marathon at Gyejok Mountain (note: they call any race a "marathon."  It wasn't actually a marathon, but a 13k. That's about 8 miles, my American friends).  

It was my first and, quite possibly, my last time running in a barefoot race .  The course itself was not terribly difficult.  A few stretches were uphill (as it was a mountain...) but there were quite a few long down hill reprieves.

What killed my poor feet was the path!  In the shade, the cool damp mud felt great!  But while the path was supposed to be comprised entirely of mud, sections of it more closely resembled sand paper. That, in combination with not being conditioned to run without shoes did a number to my feet. 

I don't know exactly how I faired in the race.  I was happy to have run it straight through.  But if I were to guess, I'd have to say that I probably placed in the top ten percent ...of the last three quarters. 

In Korea, whether you are in first or last place (and as you know, I was closer to the later), everyone is treated like an Olympian god.  Adjumas showered me with rose petals as I ran across the finish line. Then they gave me a medal.  I had flashes back to Mrs. Cathcart's 3rd grade class, "Good job, Jessie! You get a gold star for your effort!" 

I had heard that running without shoes changes your form. It's true.  At the start of the race I was bounding like an antelope.  My feet were free!- unburdened by my heavy, cumbersome running shoes.  I wanted to run down the trail with my arms flailing (I refrained to spare others a likely slap in the face.) Around mile 6, the spring in my step took a fleeting exit.  My calves felt like lead.  Running on the balls of my feet had taken its toll on my unaccustomed calf muscles. 

Sore calves and feet aside, it was still a really cool experience. Korean's make races into quite a production.  They had several performers before and after the race: a Nanta performance (stomp meets drum line), musicians, hip hop dancers, and a really cool taekwondo performance.  Black belts obliterated pieces of wood and apples on the ends of knives with their jump kicks and punches. It was amazing! 

I'd like to run another race again soon (maybe with shoes on this time). Now to only recover.. until then .. everyday I'm shufflin', everyday I'm shufflin', shufflin'!

Mud covered feet post run

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Children’s Day!

Korea has made it a national holiday! Every 5th of May is dedicated to the youth, the infants, the adolescents, the juveniles, the babes, the little tykes, the squirts, the youngsters, the whippersnappers, the kiddies, or to those who are just plan childish.

Parents give their children a gift and school is OUT!  So what did this mean for me besides a reason to act more like a kid?? …School was OUT!

A few of us spent our day of jubilance at the park near the river.  We rented bikes in the morning and then ate lunch in the park that afternoon. Daejeon, like a few cities in Europe (such as Paris), has a bike rental service as part of a “green initiative.”  There are stations scattered around the city.  You simply type in your cell phone number and your registration number and, Viola!, you have yourself a bike, fully equipped with bell and basket.  The first hour is free and each proceeding half hour is only 500 won (50 cents). Deal!
Joey on one of the rented city bikes we used. 

After a leisurely morning ride we ate ourselves into a food coma on hot dogs, deviled eggs, sweet potatoes, and sliced apples.  But man, what a way to go!

The girls

Much of the day was spent like this =) 

It was an absolutely perfect day.  We were fortunate to have clear blue skies and temperatures that touched into the 70s.  Parents and children wore their spring clothes and smiles for a day of bliss. The parks were full of kids on bikes, kids with painted faces, kids flying kites and helium balloons.  

Adults, too, were spotted on bikes, on roller blades, playing ball games.  So that led me to wonder... is a child's happiness  so infectious that it brings out our own?  Do we need a day devoted to childish behavior to tear us from our habitually desensitized adult behavior?   

 I told my mom that Children's Day was one holiday that needed to come back to the States (I'm keeping a running list) My mom replied, "What makes you think that every day isn't children's day?"  That statement might hold water in the U.S., but Korea is another matter.  

First, gift giving holidays like birthdays and Christmas are on a much smaller scale. Kids might receive a gift or two.  The Christian population is fairly large in Korea, but Christmas is not commercialized as it is in the west.  It's a holiday that's celebrated quietly amongst couples and families.  As for birthdays, they are more heavily celebrated together on the lunar new year when everyone becomes a year older together. 

Second, kids work infinitely harder in school.  I've almost given up asking my students how they are at the start of class because the majority of their responses are, "Teacher, so tired!", "I'm fine", or "I'm bad!"  A few might say, "I'm good."  Even as elementary schoolers they go to private institutions after school to study and then home to study *more* until 11, 12, and 1 o'clock at night. Korea's test scores might reflect that kind of diligence ... at a price.  

Here's to the day that allows those aspiring doctors, lawyers, and CEOs to be just...children. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sleep Deprivation Delirium

I must start this post with a caveat: sleep deprivation abounds me and with it, delirium. So if at some point reading this you think, "Wow, this makes absolutely no sense" OR, better yet, "I thought this was about a wedding, but somehow I've been reading about chickens for a paragraph's length".. well.. this should come as a warning to you. This is your brain on no sleep.

Everything is hazy. My brain feels fuzzy. There are two possibilities, the last 120 hours either really happened or they were a total hallucination. If I told you that 3 days involved an airplane, a wedding, 25 tornadoes, food poisoning, an ambulance, a cute red headed baby named Violet, a flying biscuit, and racing laps around the airport in a ford Taurus, you'd probably say, "dream!" And, I'd have to agree with you if the pictures didn't say otherwise. I did go home for an extended weekend. I did go to a best friend's wedding. I did see my family- and niece, for the first time! I did meet some of my best friends at a restaurant called the Flying Biscuit.

Is it far from the truth to say that I was also in a quasi dream state? No. Two words. Jet lag. Dangerous amounts of caffeine powered me through the day. At night, I stared at the ceiling and fantasized about different ways of putting myself to sleep. They are as follows: being shot with a tranq. gun, a night cap (I was very close to resorting to this. If it hadn't been for the image of being caught raiding the liquor cabinet and then sent to rehab, I probably would have.), anesthesia, somehow bludgeoning myself unconscious (This solution was a little too grim for even me to creatively explore how I would have made that possible), counting sheep, reading Moby Dick, ingesting Tylenol pm and/or cough syrup and/or Benadryl, eating a huge State Fair sized turkey leg, watching the golf channel, drinking chamomile tea, a lavender scented candle, riding in a car, riding in a car while drinking chamomile tea and burning a lavender scented candle, allowing someone to put me into the sleeper position... hmmm choices choices

Lauren's ceremony and reception got a huge A+. The wedding was held at this picturesque castle-like villa in the country, the food was amazing, she was beautiful, of course, and everything ran without a hitch. But, and this is a big "BUT", the 12 hours before the event had us all a little worried that there might be an apocalyptic melt down. Bless her heart, she planned that wedding with such perfection. What's the expression, "When you want to make god laugh, make plans."

I flew into Raleigh on Thursday night. The following day, the bride's maids had lunch and got manicures and pedicures. We met the rest of the wedding party that night at the venue for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. It was a beautiful day- clear blue skies, warm weather. It was so good to see the bride and groom and their whole wedding party together. Everyone seemed to really enjoy each others company. Things started to unravel that night. To Lauren's great credit, there was no bridezilla moment.

Megan, Lauren, and I. We've known each other since we were 5 and 6 years old.

Lauren and the bride's maids the night of the rehearsal dinner.

I had been in and out of sleep Friday night when another best friend of mine, Megan, woke me around 4am to say that she needed to go to the hospital. I had heard her getting up several times that night, but I didn't grasp its severity. By the time I got up, she was dehydrated from the vomiting, shaking, pale, and complaining of a tightness in her chest. It had food poisoning written all over it, but there was no way to be sure. Was it food poisoning or, was it a virus? The food had been catered most of the day and, therefore, we had all eaten the same thing. We cross checked everything we had eaten.

We were just getting directions to the nearest hospital when someone ran out to say that another girl in her room woke up displaying the same symptoms as Megan. There were now two very sick girls and the owner of the Villa ill-advised us in trying to find the hospital in the middle of the night ourselves. An ambulance would be a safer, direct route and the girls would surely be treated immediately.

As the ambulance drove away we all stood in the foyer shaken by what had happened, worried for the girls, and undeniably worried for who was next. Whether it had been food poisoning or a virus didn't seem to matter much at this point. It was the night before the wedding and we had all shared food and the entire day together. I was secretly praying that it was food poisoning and not a virus. My sister was bringing my two month old niece to the Villa in the morning and I couldn't bare the thought of exposing her fragile immune system to a contagion. God only knows how Lauren felt. It was the day of her wedding. If she was scared to her core, she didn't show it much.

If the night before wasn't enough, the next day North Carolina experienced a freak storm in which 25 tornadoes touched down. One in our county. At this point, we looked out the window and saw tornado force winds hurling at least a dozen chickens and various other livestock (Just kidding! Okay, no flying livestock. I couldn't resist)

Somehow everything that had centrifuged in the last 12 hours began to come together again a few hours before the ceremony. The girls were back from the hospital and well enough to be in the ceremony, the power was on, the guests had arrived. It was a beautiful wedding.

I spent what remainder time I had with my family who had driven in for the weekend. I met Violet, my niece. It was understood that I would be the appointed baby caregiver that weekend (I'm not sure I would have been given a "Best Baby Caregiver Award" for my efforts. I tried so hard though! ). I held her, fed her, changed her, slept with her, and woke up with her at night; I certainly wouldn't have had it any other way. I only relinquished Violet from my arms when I had to bathe or, okay, eat... and I did so begrudgingly.

The Fam

Violet woke up in the middle of the night. I certainly couldn't sleep and neither
could she so we had a photo shoot. I think the flash shocked her.
She has some of the best expressions =)

Violet slept with me Saturday night. She has this habit of rubbing her face
back and forth on your chest when shes fighting sleep. My
sister doesn't think so (less sleep time for mom) but I find it adorable

I love how she sleeps with her hands above her head <3

Bath time in the sink. I love the disconcerting look on Violet's
face. She is not thrilled with this idea, but going

with it none-the-less. She is the most well tempered baby
I know. She lets you play with her without so much as a peep.

All clean

Like mother like daughter

It was so hard to say good bye to my family on Sunday. One of the toughest moments of the entire weekend. I had dinner with some of my best friends from college at the Flying Biscuit that night. At this point, I was in a nearly comatose state from the exhaustion. I was also in a little bit of a stupor after saying bye to my family, but they came with smiles and laughter that brought me out of it.

It was great to go home, but the whole weekend had been tough. I think sheer happiness, peppered with a little sadness, mixed with a whole lot of sleep deprivation, spliced with a dash of stress in being home for the first time in 7 months exacerbated every emotion in me. I felt the need to explain to total strangers that I wasn't *normally* this emotionally unstable, but really, what was the point? As tough as the weekend had been, I'd go back and do it again because seeing everyone back home had really been something like a dream.. minus the chickens. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Courage to Get Naked

I wish I could adequately describe a jimjilbang. To simply say it’s a hybrid between a sauna and a public bath house would fall short. In a lot of ways it's a Korean community center. It has everything!! ... TVs, Arcade games, massage parlors, sleeping "cubies", movies, computers, yoga lessons, books, a gym, a restaurant, a snack bar, Dr. Fish... *inhale* And Koreans truly use them like community centers. Families camp out at the jimjilbang for hours in the day. Mothers and fathers sleep and sweat it out in the saunas while their children are playing with one another. It's a perfect system. Enclosed. Relaxed. Safe.

It was a slow start, but I am now a believer and a lover of the jimjilbang experience. So what's the catch, you ask? Where could your reservations lie when your words are nothing short of flattery? One word. Nakedness.

Let me explain. You are not naked the entire time nor is there co-ed naked frolicking. (However much of a disappointment or a relief that may come to you)

So here's how it works. You pay about 7,000 won (6USD) and are given a lovely jimjil outfit. Women get a fashionable faded pink suit and men, blue. Like the way you would go to the public pool or local YMCA, the men enter through the men's locker room/bathhouse to one side and the women through the other.

There should be a sign at the door: "Check Modesty Here ->" because once you walk through those doors be prepared to see *everything*. I've been 3 times and I still brace myself for the initial shock of seeing a proud ajuma strolling by in her birthday suit. (If you remember what I told you about ajumas then you remember that they are old Korean mothers with Att-i-tudes. Surprisingly, they are not less scary in, what would appear, a more vulnerable situation...a testament, I think, to the nature of adjumas)

Once you’ve changed into your comfy .. well.. sweat suit, then you’re ready for the main floor. The main floor is where everything but the bathhouse is located and is where families spend the majority of their time.

Last Sunday I revisited the jimjilbang. It was an overcast day, perfect for the jimjil. Though I had been twice before, once with my co-teacher and once with some foreigner friends, Sunday was the first time alone.

I was sitting in one of the massage chairs reading, when Du Ri and her friend sat next to me, giggling.

Du Ri finally worked up the courage, "What's your name?"

We talked intermittently as I was reading, thus allowing the girls to confer on the following question's structure and grammatics.

"Aren't you bow red?," Du Ri asked.

I looked at her confused, "Am I what?"

"Bow red!"

She showed me her phone's screen, which read, "Bored."

"Ahhhh! Bored. Nooo, this is relaxing. Fun!"

I think my being alone struck these two middle school girls as very odd. After all, this was their community center, a place to socialize, what was I thinking going there alone?? I thought to read and relax. Oops. (Foreigner mistake number 379)

I moved from one sauna room to the next: reading, "resting my eyes," and snacking on hard boiled eggs and peach tea (popular jimjil snacks). The saunas are more like huts than "rooms" and one Jimjilbang might be equipped with around 10 that vary in temperature and material, like wood, salt, brick, or stone. My favorite is the “natural medicine room" that smells of curry.

The hottest room is right around 300 degrees Fahrenheit. As a friend put it, that's low bake in the oven. And man!. Did I ever feel like a spit pig! At most, I can cook for 15 minutes. By then the sweat beads and rolls down every part of my body. It's stifling and hard to breathe. In this particular sauna I wrap my towel around my head like an Islamic Burka in a half-hearted attempt to spare my face from the inferno. It’s worth the short discomfort for the light, cleansing feeling I get after stepping out.

After 2 hours in and out of the saunas, I went back to where I started- the women’s bath house. It was go time (time to get naked). I had done this part once before with a co-teacher so I felt familiar enough to give it a whirl on my own. I'm not sure that this part will ever become easy with practice. Both times I've had to give myself a mental pep talk to strip down in a room full of people (Even if they were as naked as I). I have to note that foreigners are stared at just walking down the street. So now I’m a naked foreigner.

I can't say if I did, in fact, receive a lot of looks or if it was mere paranoia taken hold of me, but I remember walking through the bath house doors and thinking that all eyes were on me. I froze for a few seconds that felt more like hours. It occurred to me, naked, still standing in front of the door, that the last time I had done this my co-teacher had navigated this part for me-- scooting me from the showers to the pools, handing me the bucket to place my soaps and towels. I saw the shower heads, but how was I to get a spot?? I saw women with buckets, but how was I to get one of my own??

Thus began my wandering (still naked, folks!). After a few painfully awkward seconds, I decided that this naked wandering would just not do. I’d have to watch how the Koreans did it. I sat on the edge of a pool for a few seconds and waited for a spot to open. It wasn't long before I was situated at a shower head of my own. What a relief that was! And like magic, the more I relaxed, the less people stared! (okay, okay! So it was paranoia...)

I have to say, it was really enjoyable. I spent an hour pampering myself, sitting in different pools of water, exfoliating my skin, and painting my toes nails. I walked out of the jimjilbang feeling more clean, refreshed, and healthy than I had in a long time. It's really not that bad if you can muster the courage to get naked!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Letter to Mom

Hey Mom,

So you asked me what I miss the most about home the other day and I realize I hesitated... which is strange considering that there is so much that I miss about home. I guess I try not to think about it too much while I'm here. It's an interesting question so I took some time to think about it and answer. Here's the list that I came up with, in no particular order. These things come a far second to family/friends/and being able to speak in English anywhere I go. 

(1) Not needing to translate EVERYTHING. I still don't know Korean that well and I hate going to a restaurant or to the grocery story or wherever, really, and having no idea what it is that I'm looking at. I rode the elevator to every floor of the 9 floor building my laser clinic is in because I couldn't decipher the buildings layout map. Or oops.. ordering the kimbap (rice roll) with jalapeño peppers. That one was a surprise! Because no matter how much Korean I know or don't know (and you and I both know that I'm the later), it will never be my native language nor will I ever know every word. 
2. Tex-Mex
3. Frosting.  Koreans use whipping cream as their base for frosting and I've got to say I miss regular american, Betty Crocker, thick frosting
4. grilling out. There is no place to do this because it's not really part of Korean culture
5. Being able to play soccer. I've come to realize that girls don't play competitive soccer anywhere, really, but in the U.S.
6. Sweet tea, biscuits and gravy, and southern food in general.  I have to add southern culture to that too. I miss the courtesy, holding doors, smiling at strangers, and waving at people as you drive by.
7. Shoes in my size!! I can't buy shoes here :(  or very many clothes either
8. Reese's Cups
9. Mediterranean food
10. An oven. My toaster oven does not count if I can only fit 5 cookies in at a time. haha!
11. Bathtub .. or really just having a separate shower area instead of a shower head placed over my sink and a drain in the middle of my bathroom floor.
12. Green .. What i mean by that is grass, flowers like the ones in your garden, plants, the outdoors, the woods. I especially miss this about the mountains at home.
13. REAL cheese. They've got the fake plastic cheese here. You know the ones, the singles that are individually wrapped. I miss good sharp cheddar or Swiss or Havarti. 
14. Deli meats.  They don't have this at all
15. Anonymity. I miss not being stared at as a foreigner. Or hearing "waygooken" ("foreigner") as I pass.
16. Independence. You would think that living in a foreign country, I would have all the independence I possibly need; but surprisingly, I feel like a small child. I can't talk to my land lord or call the internet or phone company or go to the doctor without my co-teacher in hand. 
17. Greek yogurt. The yogurt here is drinkable. It's a little thicker than milk.  I miss thick, creamy yogurt
18. Being able to order "lite" options at the coffee shop. I would like to order a caramel cafe latte light
19. For the western items that I can find here, I miss being able to pay reasonable prices for them... peanut butter, sunscreen, more exotic fruits, some cheeses.. I can find them, but they cost quite a bit
20. Inexpensive "stuff".  sunglasses (I really can't find them here at all and I break mine all the time), inexpensive cosmetics. I've only found name brands and they're expensive.
21. Whole wheat, grainy, nutty, wholesome bread. You can get bread here, but I've only really found the whitest of white bread
22. Desserts like the ones from home : cheese cake, pie (key lime, blueberry, apple), cake, gooey cookies, brownies
23. Having a place to run outdoors. There are a few recreational paths by the rivers. They aren't near me though. I miss something like Deep Creek at home or the multitude of parks made for outdoor recreation or runner friendly sidewalks.
24. English reading material.. books, magazines, newspapers. There is a relatively good English bookstore, but it's in one neighborhood in Seoul, which is an hour train ride away. 

I'm laughing at myself because this started with a hesitation, and then as a short list, but the more I wrote, the more things spilled out like some uncontrollable reflex. Most of these are trivial. I'll probably blog about this. You've got the insider scoop ;)

k, love you!

*** Note: This was one of my emails to my mom and I thought to put it up because it was difficult at first for me to come up with material things that I missed about home.  I say all the time that I miss my friends and family, but what about everything else? On our last skype date with my mom we talked about how I've lived in Korea for 6 months now and I've now reached the midpoint of my contract.  It has marked the longest period that I've lived outside of the U.S. and so she wanted to know what it was that I missed the most. I don't know if the question took me by surprise or if if was that I had never really given it serious thought, but I couldn't give her an answer.  I think I told her Tex-Mex and being able to play soccer on a regular basis. I actually googled "things you miss about home; living abroad" before I could write this to her. You can see with 24 items it didn't take long for a pretty substantial list to materialize. After looking at it, I found it funny that most of these items involve food, which leads me to believe that either a) I'm a fatty (haha!) or b) so much of culture and comforts deal with the food we eat.  I think it is also funny that really trivial things like frosting and sweet tea came to mind before more weighty topics like the outdoors or anonymity or independence.  I want to note that this is not a rant about Korea.  I go through a normal amount of homesickness like anyone else, but I am actually pretty happy here. I found this more entertaining than anything and for that I thought I'd share it with you. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Violet Olive

I bet you've never seen a Violet Olive!

My new niece, Violet Olivia, was born February 22, seven pounds, one ounce, beautiful as ever. We were all ecstatic to see that she has red hair like her mommy.  <3

Violet Olivia. Some names are void of nickname potential. This name is not.  As sweet as her name stands alone, I'm afraid the challenge my sister will face is reigning in the onslaught of nicknames that will surely come.  Some are good, some are lacking.  I've heard whispers of: Vi, ViVi, Vive, Vie (as in "c'est la vie"), Violet Olive, Olive, Von (her initials), lightening bug (named so because she has to wear a light around her waist at night to help her liver eliminate the jaundice. Admittedly, the name is pretty fitting when you see her lit up.) Plum (a violet fruit, of course... During Carolyn's pregnancy we laughed that the doctor would compare Violet's development in terms of food.  "She's about the size of a...peanut.. prune.. plum... orange.. grapefruit.").

The one I cannot stand is "Red."  In my mind's eye that name elicits an image of a trucker who's real name is Toby, throwing back a beer or two at the local bar.  Surely nothing could be so ill suited.  My mom fought tooth and nail to keep people from calling Carolyn, "Red."  I'm afraid Carolyn has inherited the same task.

Already, I am totally in love with that little girl. I've seen pictures and I've watched Violet peep through half closed eyes. I've even spoken to her and my sister (thanks to skype); but I haven't been able to hold her.  There is nothing more difficult than looking at a screen, all the while knowing that the ones you love are literally half a world away.  It makes living here a little more difficult, but I suppose I have to be grateful for the things that challenge my heart to grow a little more and for the things that challenge me to be a little braver.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Highway Robbery

Prices for food and clothing and really...most goods in Korea are very comparable to prices in the U.S.  HOWEVER, there are a few services that Korea offers at a price that feels like highway robbery compared to prices at home.

One such service is going to the hair salon.  My guy friends are unimpressed when I tell them that I pay a mere $10 for a good hair cut and $15 for a more expensive one.  Men, I’m sorry, but most of you will probably never understand the lengths women go to (or the price we’re willing to pay) for the upkeep of those long/short/curled/spiked/straightened/dyed locks of ours.  I’m sure that all of my fellow women who have paid $30+ on a haircut, hear me when I say, I ONLY paid $15 on a haircut and style! It’s also a lot cheaper to dye, chemically straightening, or curl your hair as well. 

Prescriptions, going to the doctor, and going to the dentist are out of this world, cheap.  Of course, the price depends on what you get done.  From my understanding, a visit to the doctor and a prescription should be no more than $10.  A friend said he paid $20 for a filling that included the anesthetic-everything. Can you imagine?  It’s still really hard for me to fathom. I’ve been so trained to pay $100+ for the equivalent services in the U.S. that I feel a streak of guilt when I hand over my 10,000 won bill (about 10 USD). 

Laser hair removal joins the "incredibly- less expensive-services-that I almost feel guilty paying so little for” list.  I’m having some work done in this area.  Underarm laser hair removal cost me something like $50 for all 5 treatments and the bikini area cost me $270 for the same number of times.  To give you a point of reference, bikini laser hair removal in the States costs anywhere from $350 to $500 **per** treatment.  Foreigners joke that if you’re going to have any work done, get it done in Korea.

Today was my first bikini treatment.  I was a little embarrassed when I saw the male doctor enter the room as I was lying on the table with a small medical skirt around my waist. “Oh, grEAt.”  Thankfully, he came in to explain the procedure for the next 5 months and was out the door again.  Doctors, having more education, tend to speak the most English. 

A female technician came in to apply a cold gel and zap the area I wanted treated.  I was still a little mortified and squeezed my eyes closed during the 5 whole minutes it took. ( A good friend of mine said that when her college roommate was changing in the same room she used to tell her to look away unless she wanted to see all her “goodness.”) Let’s be honest, there was no modesty in that room. My “goodness” was very much exposed.

I have to say that in all of my mortification, the whole thing was really no big deal.  I was in and out and there was little to no pain.  Occasionally, I felt a prick from the laser, but it was very mild. 

Worth it? I think so.