Sunday, July 30, 2006

all my bags are packed, i'm ready to go...

i thought this weekend would be strangeey with al and melissa gone, and yes it was weird, but i've had fun. i cleaned and cleaned and cleaned some more on friday. i really have to pat myself on the back because i'm really proud of how well i've done with this moving process. i scrubbed my bathroom on friday and never knew how white my bathroom could be. i cleaned some more on saturday, so my floors are good and done. everything is packed and ready to go.

last night was my final final dinner at cin cin (for serious). man i'm gonna miss that spinach pizza. who knew you could have some of the best pizza ever in little ol' korea?

anyway, it was good times. i went with sylvia, jim, tessa, tessa's friend meaghan, and alex, a korean teacher. it was a lot of fun. first we did dinner, then sylvia, jim, alex, and i went to ethnic.

we drank quite a few rounds of strawberry soju. after that we got our groove on at bubi bubi. i must say, i'd been disappointed the last few times i've been there because of how crowded it is and how many pushy people are starting to go there, but it was just like old times. we got there early enough where it was crowded, but not obscenely crowded. i got to see my favorite workers there and say goodbye. we called it an early night at 1 am, just when the foreigners were starting to show up in masses.

man, i'm REALLY proud that i came home so early. i got a full night of sleep and was able to get up early to take kimchi to the vet to get his health certificate. also, sylvia, alex, and i are going shopping in the underground mall downtown soon. apparently neither of them have been yet (alex moved here from seoul in february so she isn't too familiar with everything yet), so that'll be exciting to show them around. i feel like i've come a long way in one year. if someone told me that i would be this familiar with the city at the beginning of the year, i'd laugh in their face.

also, i got word from al, who is home safe in minnesota. she said things are weird there, but wonderfully great. strangeey that in three days i'll be able to experience that for myself!

Thursday, July 27, 2006


30- number of dunkin donuts munchkins i gave to my first class this morning
20- number of ice cream cones i bought for some other classes
13- number of hours on my tokyo to nyc flight
8- number of boxes i sent home
7- number of classes i have tomorrow
6- number of students i can't wait to get rid of
5- number of days left in korea
4- number of minutes left in class today when i kicked luke, one of my favorite students, out of the room for trying to smear his donut on his buddy jim's cheek
3- number of classes i treated to snacks today
2- number of teaching days left
1- chihuahua in a pear tree (sorry i've got nothing for that one)

well i'm finished with my tuesday/thursday students. today was enjoyable. i got a card from one class (one of the three classes left that i've had from the beginning). we played some scrabble, had a "snack party" in a few classes, and got some email addresses. just two teaching days left. i mailed out my last box today. that pretty much cleaned me out of cash. after getting the snacks for today i only have about $25 to get me through till monday. i'll have to use the remaining money on kimchi's health certificate and see what i can still afford snack-wise for my monday classes. i also have to go out with sylvia and jim and possibly tessa this weekend as the last co-workers night out thing. in order to avoid selling my body to make some quick money to afford said night out, sylvia said she'd cover me, which saves me some hassle (not to mention hustle...) i haven't been this broke since my first week here. that severence pay is looking mighty delicious now.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

and then there were two

alisun has officially finished her year in korea. as i type she's probably somewhere over the pacific. i think i'm in denial about not having salsa and alisun in my daily life when i go home. part of me thinks that i'll get to jfk and they'll be there waiting. when it comes down to it, they made korea for me. of course it's a great country and everything was amazing, but i can't imagine what my year would've been like if i hadn't met them.

last night salsa and i helped alisun with last minute cleaning. i went home at about 1 am to get a few hours of sleep, and at 2:50 i was up again and on my way to help al get her suitcases to the airport bus stop for her 4 am bus ride. man am i GLAD that i stuck with my original plan of sending most of my things home in advance. her two suitcases were quite heavy, plus she had a rolling carry-on and her purse. waiting for the bus was interesting, most of the time was spent watching one of the biggest spiders i've ever seen working on a web. it's weird something so trivial can unexpectly be associated with something you'll remember forever.

it definitely didn't feel like good-bye. salsa and i had work on our minds plus the three of us were too tired to be emotional. what were al's final words? "thank you for coming to my restaurant." someone was definitely lacking sleep.

as for me, most of my stuff is packed. i only have a few clothes out and one box of souvenirs left to mail out. kimchi is updated on his shots, and i need to get him to the vet sometime this weekend to get his certificate of health. the smaller details are coming into play. just yesterday i was looking things up on japan airlines website, curious about meal and movie selection. so far it looks like i'll have my own little tv, which is really nice. on the way here i was subjected to a giant screen showing miss congeniality 2, beauty shop, and the sandlot 2 (which i didn't even know was in existence)

tomorrow is my last day with my tuesday/thursday kids. that includes two of my favorite classes, one of which only realized on tuesday that i wasn't coming back to korea. guess they just thought i was going on vacation. in total, three teaching days left, with monday being my last. not sure how i feel about it, part of me wants to be finished already and part of me knows i'll really miss some of the kids. but i'm really greatful that i have tuesday off to really clean and run errands. also, this weekend i won't really have anyone around, considering alisun's gone and melissa is going to pentaport rock festival with aaron, tom, and tom's friends. but i'm looking forward to some "alone time." it's kind of ironic that i'll go out the same way i came in, on my own.

Friday, July 21, 2006

getting excited!

i talked to my parents on the phone today. they had decided that since i was flying in on wednesday night to nyc we'd just stay the night and drive home in the morning.

just got an email from my parents, and we'll be staying at the marriott marquis.

with a room-view of:

at first i wasn't too happy about not getting home that night, but my mind has definitely changed. although i'm sure it will in no way compare to when steph and i stayed there in april (cause really, what can beat water aerobics, grilled sandwiches, room service, and two hilary duff movies?), it will most definitely be a great "welcome to america."


i love kimchi. i love koreans. i really do.

what i find humorous is the fact that most koreans cannot believe that you like kimchi. or korean food. yes, they get excited when you tell them your favorite korean meals... but more times than not, their excitement is followed with a "but... it is so spicy!"

yes, kimchi is spicy. yes, kimchi jjigae is spicy. yes, fire chicken is spicy. but do they think there is no other cuisine in the world that is just as spicy, if not more spicy? i've had mexican food that's blown the top off of my head. i've had thai food that is cause for a five alarm fire.

in all honesty, i don't even find kimchi or korean food to be that spicy anymore. i think i inherited my grandfather's tastebuds... that man could pack on the red pepper powder like nobody's business to a point where i was pretty sure he could no longer taste the food underneath... either that or he burned his taste buds right off.

just yesterday, the school got some chinese/korean food for the english teachers. we were all huddled around the table, picking at the food. i reached over to get some kimchi, and a teacher looked at me quite seriously and said "this is spicy." i just smiled and said "i know." please, give me some credit, lady. do you honestly think i've spent a year in korea without even KNOWING what kimchi was or what it tasted like? i even went back for seconds just to show her that yes, foreigners here CAN handle the food. it's not that spicy, folks.

i once saw a post on daveseslcafe about korean's incredulousness that foreigners can handle a little red pepper paste. one poster decided t-shirts should be made saying something along the lines of "other countries have spice, too." i don't think that's a bad idea.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

how do i love thee...

as promised, now that i'll be home in less than two weeks, i've compiled a list off what i will miss about korea. i thank my lucky stars that this past year has been filled with communication with people back home. with visits, emails, this blog, phone calls, and my picture website, i think my family and friends have really gotten a taste of what this year has been like. this is essential when it comes to lessening the anxiety of getting home and dealing with people who most likely will have a lot of questions. i remember being a crying mess when i got off the plane returning from guatemala, not ready to talk about everything and just feeling like nobody would understand... and that was after only three weeks there! i still am concerned about reverse culture shock. i can already imagine what it will be like, which is number one on my list of what i will miss:

-being able to tune out people around you. i'm already picturing how irritating it's going to be sitting in a restaurant, cafe, or just walking down the street and understanding every single word coming out of strangers' mouths.

in addition to that, i will also miss:
-kimchi jjigae
-chamchi kimbap
-kimchi dopbap
-dolsot bibimbap
-rice desserts
-using chopsticks for practically every meal
-a culture that isn't afraid to include tofu in most dishes
-spicy food galore... but a different kind of spice from mexican food and the spiciness i'm used to
-having a meal that costs less than $5, which includes multiple sidedishes
-assigned seating in movie theaters... they really need to take this idea to america, because it's great to not have to worry about making it early enough to get enough seats together in a decent section
-taking numbers in banks and movie theaters, no lines needed here.
-NORAEBANGS. maybe i should have made this my number one.
-jjimjilbangs and saunas
-having no shame in going ANYWHERE in heels or dressing like i just stepped out of a fashion magazine
-giving and receiving things with two hands
-soju. although i don't drink it often at all and it leaves you with terrible hangovers, i'll miss the fact that it's only a dollar and tastes pretty good when mixed with orange juice. and i'll really resent it when i hunt it down back home for sharing with friends and family and forking over a good $10 for it. ridic-u-lous.
-not having to make conversation if you're not in the mood, it's so easy to withdraw yourself in public or at work because you don't speak the same language
-the accessibility of everything... being able to run right around the corner in the middle of the night to grab something at the convenience store.
-being able to walk to work
-being able to walk pretty much anywhere and getting what you need... without having to drive for 20 minutes
-watching reality tv to my heart's content... somehow it's not as shameful here
-being in a country where you can go to any major city and make it a day trip... from seoul to busan and back.
-alcohol sold anywhere. i love being able to grab a bottle of yellow tail merlot at the local 7/11 at 2 in the morning
-speaking of 7/11s... i'm going to miss, and perhaps be nostalgic when seeing, 7/11s, starbucks, bennigans, outback steakhouse, and tgifridays. i rarely went to starbucks back home, and man do your world-views on globalization really take a backseat to your comfort level and happiness when living in a foreign country. i've never stepped foot in a bennigans or outback back home and don't plan on ever doing so when i return. but god i loved them here, and i don't think anyone back home can ever realize the significance it holds for the expat community here... they'll always have a special place in my heart.
-no taxes... when you see something you want to buy, that's how much you pay. no ridiculous adding necessary.
-no tips. i'm actually really nervous about returning to a country where this is necessary and trying to remember to tip after taxi rides and leaving restaurants... and being generous in the process
-a job with short days that allows me to sleep in and never need an alarm clock... with exception to my last week here >:(
-playing with little kids all day and having the opportunity to just give writing assigments or play games if i'm not feeling like actually teaching (though i don't do that too often)
-being able to be an extreme goofball and have it be for educational purposes... kids definitely understand concepts better if you act like a moron and draw terrible pictures on the blackboard
-for a full year, having people back home actually interested in what you're doing because it's different
-though it gets annoying at times, feeling like a celebrity whenever you walk outside
-it's so much easier to meet people here, there's more reason to
-wacky t-shirts
-if you ever need a good laugh, you'll pretty much encounter a funny situation on a daily basis here. strange things do happen and i'll be sad to return to a "normal" life where things just don't shock you in the same way
-the sense of adventure
-mountains EVERYWHERE
-ondol heating
-downloading movies
-interaction with taxi drivers... some of them are among the funniest people i've ever met
-"serbicuh" with any purchase, large or small. love those freebies.
-appreciating your background/home more than you ever thought possible. i do love america, but i know in my head i have a glorified image of new york and the us. i know i'm going to go home and realize it's not as great as i was thinking and then create a glorified image of korea in my head and want to go back.
-those moments i've lived that were seriously lost in translation. i will watch that movie over and over when i'm home and laugh and laugh because really, only people who have been to asia can really GET the subtle humor of that movie
-though i don't go out much anymore, that great freedom of staying out as late as you want because everything's open all night, and feeling no shame in returning home at 6 in the morning. or 6:30. or 7:30.
-having friends that are sharing in the same exact experience. though we have different backgrounds, we all have a unique bond. we are here for more or less the same reasons, have the same financial background throughout the year, and have just about the same schedules. i'm never going to have that opportunity again, having friends who make the same amount of money and are on exactly the same page as me. we all came here for the adventure.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

i've got seoul but i'm not a soldier

this past weekend was my last weekend in seoul. alisun, salsa, sylvia (the new south african teacher at my school, rika's friend from home) planned on a day trip: get up saturday, head to insadong, get some last minute gifts (well, last minute for al and me who are leaving within a week of each other) and souvenirs, check out a few museums, and then go to songtan, which apparently has a huge outdoor market.

the first two parts of the plan went over well. we got to insadong at around 1 or so, did some shopping, and hopped on a bus going to the gana art museum, where there were some great photography exhibits. we had dinner across the street at monet, a nice little italian cafe/wine bar. at that point salsa decided to head back and al, sylvia, and i were going to try to get to songtan. long story short, the metro took longer than we thought (actually, it took as long as i'd anticipated, i just didn't really pay attention to the time we left, therefore it was just poor planning.) we were still on the metro at 9 pm and decided we're be in a race now to actually get an express bus back to daejeon. so, we hopped off the subway and headed back to suwon to get an express bus from there. by then it was after ten and the last bus had left long ago. so, we got tickets to kangnam, seoul, and though maybe we'd make the last ktx train back. we didn't. we didn't get to seoul until 11:45 or so, so we called it a night and shacked up in a motel. i would've been fine with the plans, i just felt irresponsible that a certain kim-man was waiting for me to return home.

anyway, we got up at 9 this morning and headed back to daejeon. went to our respective places and showered, and then the three of them came over to my place where we ordered pizza and watched transamerica (highly recommended). overall, an enjoyable weekend, but i was still disappointed that i 1) didn't make it back that same day. guess it was just sort of a mental goal to say "hey! i CAN just do a day-trip in seoul and be successful!" and 2) didn't get the airline-approved dog carrier that i was hoping to find in songtan.

so, on my to-do list for tomorrow and tuesday:
1) go to the post office and get the biggest post-office approved boxes i can find
2) come back and pack up all things that can be mailed home now
3) maybe run to e-mart or other department stores to see if they have any dog carriers there. i have to find it soon to let the airline know exactly how much space i will be taking up. if anyone is reading this and knows where i can find one, please let me know!
4) take mr. kim to the vet and get his shots updated and ask about getting his certificate of health
5) mail boxes (see no. 1) home

i have the feeling this remaining time is really going to FLY by, judging how fast june went by. also, july 17th is another holiday. assssahhh!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

recurring dreams

it happened again last night. i don't know what it is, but i've been having a few recurring dreams over the past few years. one of them i've been having since high school and the other two probably started during my last years in college.

the first one involves my teeth. my back molars just start crumbling apart and soon i'm spitting pieces of my teeth out. creepy, i know. for a while i thought it was a strange dream, but then my curiosity got the best of me and i did a search for common recurring dreams on the internet. turns out it's one of the most common ones, and there are a few meanings behind it, from anxiety about something in your life to not feeling that your voice is being heard. i actually haven't had that one in a while. guess i've been speaking up loud and clear.

the next two dreams i've been having a lot, especially since graduating from college, and maybe even during my final semester. oddly enough, both dreams involve high school. in the first one, i'm thrown onto stage because we're doing a reunion of "how to succeed in business without really trying" (my senior year musical) and i'm incredibly worried that we haven't had any rehearsals and i just keep praying that i'll remember my lines, dreading stepping onto the stage.

for some reason, i think the rest of the cast had been practicing without me and i was coming in late from college and could only make it for the actual preformances. my dream never goes as far as the actual performance, though, usually i just walk out on stage and say a few lines (they're actually a mix off all of the lines i can remember today) and then i wake up, relieved that it was only a dream.

the dream i had last night is also another "unprepared" one, and always involves the SAME PEOPLE and the SAME CLASS. i'm back in high school, i think even at my current age. the registatrion process is rushed, usually my transcript is messed up, and i'm running around trying to find mrs. nadeau's math class. i always get there and realize i don't have my homework, or sometimes my book, and i just sit there anxiously waiting to be yelled at, sometimes scrambling to pretend i did my homework. and of course there are always the smartest people in the class there, homework done, excited to be back in high school after finishing college. a lot of the time the layout of my high school is different and involves many floors and elevators and i'm running around completely lost. usually there's also a locker, thrown in, that i was supposed remember the combination to, although i hadn't used it in five years.

and i'm sure we're all familiar with the dreams that we have that feel real. at no point do we ever think "oh, i'm ok, it's just a dream and i'll wake up." these dreams always feel real. they're pretty easy to decipher, and it makes sense, i suppose, that they're starting up again. my days in korea are coming to an end and i'm looking at grad school programs and a new life chapter is about to begin. i suppose there's that subconscious uneasiness that i won't get accepted to any program (maybe because i'm unprepared like my dreams?). let's hope that doesn't happen.

in the meantime, i'll sleep with one eye open.

Monday, July 03, 2006

homeward bound

the date is july 3, 2006. in less than a month i will be home. it's really a mix of emotions for me. there are so many things i'm looking forward to, and so many things that i will miss. this has been an incredible year. part of me is ready to go, and part of me would sign another year in a heartbeat... but that wouldn't happen because i think i'm ready for the next part of my life. what am i going to do? i thought i would be living in nyc with some friends, but i decided against that and instead am going to take a year to live at home (that's right, make your jokes now) and save up some more money, maybe work a cafe job, and apply to grad school. grad school. never thought i'd end up there, but i'm really excited about it. i'm thinking definitely a suny school, with buffalo at the top of my list.

i want to break this blog down a little bit. i want to share with you the things i can think of that i CAN'T WAIT to return to. in about two weeks, i'll make another list of all of the things i'm going to miss terribly here. i think over the past year people who have read this have gotten a pretty good idea of who i am and what life is like here, but i'd like to add another dimension and really compare the differences between life here and life home. we're talking culture, customs, behavior, foods, geography, everything. i love korea, i really do, and although some of these things may sound like i have a negative attitude about living here, i still wouldn't change anything about my past year and i realize most of these things, although seemingly everywhere i go, are the exception to the rule of how most koreans act.

i know most things in life are contradictory. i am no exception to this, nor is my country. i've actually grown to have a loving relationship with these things which i call "irksome." i wouldn't change anything that happened in the past year for the world. after all, these are the things that really teach you about who you are and help you to appreciate your own background.

and here it is, why i can't wait to return home:

-grocery stores. no screamers and shouters announcing that a special selection of dried squid is on sale. no obnoxious pricing system of fruits and vegetables where if you forget to put a sticker on the bag and then try to pay for it, they simply won't send someone for a price check and won't allow you to buy it.
-burritos, tacos, fajitas, sour cream, guacamole, tortillas, and all that fresh latin goodness that makes a fiesta for my taste buds
-health food! aisles and aisles of "well-being" glory- hummus, tabouli, whole wheat EVERYTHING, every flavor of salsa you can imagine, natural grain cereals, great soy milks, organic yogurt, veggie burgers, fake meat, and organic teas
-greek food
-ben and jerrys... cherry garcia, you will be mine. oh yes, you will be mine.
-my mom's veggie chili and flax seed bread
-fresh, gourmet sandwiches with REAL BREAD (see: health food)
-salads, sushi, and sandwiches without strange sweet "koreanized" ingredients like thousand island, kiwi dressing, or sweet pickles
-dilly beans
-fresh fruit that doesn't look like it's been sitting out for weeks
-being able to ask for substitutions at restaurants or to add something to a dish without the waiter looking at you like you have lobsters crawling out of your ears and receiving a prompt "ani-o!"

-being able to TALK to anyone you need to- walking into the convenience store and being able to make small talk, ordering food the WAY I WANT IT, being able to ask for (and give) simple directions, being able to read EVERYTHING on signs, etc.
-no more "hwwakkkk" spit going on everywhere around me whenever i'm out walking
-no more "hello! nice to meet you! i'm fine how about you? i love you ::giggle giggle::" from people who think it's funny to spit out every sentence of english they've ever learned to their friends as they're passing by
-no more ajummas or ajosshis poking me, walking right up to stare at me, or taking up the whole elevator
-no more people who think because i'm foreign i'm obviously not standing in line and, therefore, they can cut right in front of me
-no more STARING
-no more embarrassed giggling from store clerks or waiters who are too afraid or embarrassed to talk to us in both english AND korean
-no more "sending out the one person who speaks english" to deal with me before even giving me a chance to see if we can work together in korean in any public place
-no more crowded elevators
-no more fear of getting run over by a motorbike on the sidewalk
-no more fearing for my life in a taxi
-no more "special" trash bags that i just toss out into the street
-the freedom to run to the local convenience store with no shame that you look like you just woke up and "forgot" to put on your favorite fancy stilettos
-no more negative connotation to the simple question "russian?"
-no more ajumma butt slaps
-no more marriage proposals from taxi drivers
-no need for taxis of any sort!
-going back to that marriage thing... after deciding i'd never be able to date a korean guy who is actually from korea, i think i'll be going home with a whole new outlook on availability. a country with walking-talking real boys. if you speak my language, i don't care who you're hitched to. you're available if i say so.
-driving through country and farmland
-the adirondacks!
-shopping malls
-shoes everywhere in my size!
-familiar faces!
-being in a culture that sees the humor in staring at yourself in the elevator mirror or taking pictures of yourself on your camera phone out of sheer boredom
-being in a culture where it's impolite to smack food or chew with your mouth open
-no more people telling me how to eat my food- i'll eat it however i damn well please!
-hot water, soap, and western toilets in every public bathroom
-having a microwave again
-interesting people. after a full year of asking a "foreigner" what he or she does, knowing "i'm a teacher" will be the response, i can safely say it gets tiring.
-individuality- no more "confucianism" and "we do this because it was always this way. period."
-returning to a society where having tattoos, facial piercings, and short hair for women is quite common!
-the smell of fresh cut grass
-small town traffic
-nothing beats that "colonial new england" feel. though we're not technically in it, i consider most of the northeast to be new england. i've spent enough vacations in cape cod, done enough antique shopping in vermont, and picked enough apples on a cool upstate new york autumn day to know that no matter where i may travel, i'll always be a new england girl at heart.