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Thursday, October 4:  Ailsa’s Travel Theme (Where’s my backpack?) for this week is Foliage.  She writes: It’s getting all autumnal up here in the northern hemisphere, while down in the southern hemisphere everyone’s looking forward to spring. Whichever hemisphere you inhabit, now is a fantastic time to get out and have a look at what the trees are doing. Whether they’re about to burst into life with fresh green growth, or starting to adorn themselves in their autumn glory; even if they’re still wearing their evergreen needles, it’s a wonderful time to go leaf peeping.

Since there is no autumn in Oman, I thought I would celebrate my favorite season by posting some beautiful fall pictures from Korea.  I haven’t had a U.S. fall since 2009.  :-(  Here are some pictures of foliage from Korea, taken in the fall of 2010:

In Jeongju, South Korea

I’m reliving fall colors through my memories of Korea.

a Buddha surrounded by foliage

bright foliage and a Buddhist temple

bright red foliage and lanterns

Sunday, April 22:  I was surprised when Sherene from PRINT-SENSE photography & design nominated my catbird in korea blog for The Versatile Blogger Award.  This award is all about introducing bloggers to each other and promoting quality blogs that the awardees and their readers might not have discovered otherwise.

“Versatile Blogger” Award Rules:

  • Post a picture of the award.
  • Thank the award giver.
  • Share 7 random facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other bloggers about this and tell them by leaving comments on their blog.

First, I must thank Sherene for thinking of me for this award.  You’re so kind to nominate me!!  I should mention though that this blog is no longer my primary blog. I wrote this blog while I was teaching and living abroad in South Korea, from February 2010 to February 2011.  I haven’t posted anything new on it in a long time, although I think I have a lot of good stuff on here!  I am currently living and teaching English in Nizwa, Oman, so if any of you would like to follow my life now, I welcome you visit me at a nomad in the land of nizwa.  I hope to see you there… :-)

Meanwhile, I will follow the rules to accept this award.  I don’t think I really have to comment on everyone’s blog who I nominate, as the pingback will notify them.  Please someone let me know if this is not the case!

Here are the 7 random facts about myself:

1. Once one of my close childhood friends ran over me with a motorboat, and as I saw the propeller churning in front of my face, she thankfully thought to turn off the motor!

2. I love shrimp fixed any imaginable way.

3. I worked for four years at Cash Control at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, while I was a student at the College of William & Mary.

4. I lived in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho for four years from 1980-1984 with my first husband, his two pugs, Max & Ulysses, and a black mutt named Lilly.  During that time Mt. Saint Helens erupted and we were covered with ash for 4 days.

5. I have been an English teacher, banker, stockbroker, newspaper reporter, State Department intern, mom, housewife and wanna-be writer.

6. I love Loreena McKinnett’s Gates of Istanbul and the whole country of Turkey, especially Cappadocia.  One of the most romantic places on earth!!

7. One time I climbed to the top of Pilot Rock in Oregon, and when it came time to come down, I was so terrified, I started crying and told my husband and his friend they were going to have to have a helicopter come to pick me up.  Guess I’m afraid of heights!!

Now, here are the 15 bloggers I nominate for this award, in no particular order (There are many more I’d like to nominate, but I’ll hit those people next time around!):

1. Latebloomerbuds

2. Donna on Palawan

3. Lucid Gypsy

4. 50 Year Project

5. Lady Barefoot Baroness

6. this man’s journey

7. Karma’s When I Feel Like It Blog

8. the unbearable lightness of being me

9. The Traveling Gypsy

10. The Urge to Wander

11. Fancy That…Fancy This

12. Rural Route Runner

13. Andy in Oman

14. Let Me Bite That

15. Dhofari Gucci

In Pico Iyer’s fabulous book, The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto, Pico tells a hilarious story about a meeting of Amnesty International he attended in Kyoto.  I wish I could copy the entire story here verbatim, but I imagine that would constitute plagiarism of some kind! So I will try to tell the story in short fashion, just to relay my point.  The best thing to do when reading this story is to substitute Koreans for the Japanese.  Because I think in this particular scenario, Koreans would behave exactly the same.

The story goes like this: In the meeting room, mostly young Japanese are seated on the floor. Pico is ushered to a seat near the front of the room.  In the book he says this is typical: “foreigners were given the best seats in the house (a sign of Japanese graciousness) and, in the same act, were segregated from all locals (a sign of Japanese prudence).”  (Substitute “Korean” here as well!) An older gentleman is then ushered in, who turns out to be Reverend Farnsworth, along with a family of 3 Argentinians who proceed to describe their torture “at the hands of the military government.”

Now, here I must quote because it is funniest when told in Pico’s words: “And then the [Argentinian man] began speaking, delivering a sentence or two of introduction, in the rough Argentinian Spanish that turns yo into zho and vas into vasch. There was silence.  The man looked at me….Thirty pairs of Japanese eyes looked at me.  I looked at everyone else.  And then, with a sinking heart, as the silence deepened, I realized what was going on: mine was not, it seemed, just a foreigner’s place of honor – it was the translator’s chair.  Apparently my Spanish-sounding name and vaguely Hispanic looks had been enough to have procured for me, unbeknownst to me, the job of interpreting from Spanish, a language I had never learned, to Japanese, a language Francis Xavier himself had considered the work of the devil.  My only qualification for the task, I thought bitterly, was that I was probably the only person in the room who spoke neither Spanish or Japanese.”

While Pico Iyer sits silently baffled, registering this entire misunderstanding, the tortured Argentinian asks Pico Iyer if he speaks Spanish and Pico responds that he’s not Spanish; he’s Indian.  But he tells the man he might be able to translate a little if he speaks very slowly and simply.  So in a torturous translation to follow, Pico struggles to remember what few Spanish words and Japanese words he knows, and everyone in the audience is squirming in pain at the resulting translation.

Finally, in the question-and-answer session following the lecture, “out of nowhere, a Japanese man in the audience, unable to wait for the interminable process of translating Japanese into English and then into Spanish and back again, suddenly spoke directly to the family, in Spanish.”

Pico says, “Madre de Dios, I thought, my mind on anything but the desaparecidos: here was a man who was perfectly equipped to translate from Spanish directly into Japanese, and vise versa.  I was off the hook!”

After unsuccessfully trying to convince this Japanese guy to take over the translating, Pico then goes on to say:  This “only shows how little I understood Japan…. Try as I might, I saw that there was no way at all of persuading him to speak a tongue in which he might possibly, just possibly, in the space of several paragraphs, make a single tiny error.”

Herein lies the problem in Korea as well.  Most Koreans have been taught English since they were in first grade.  The Korean government in fact, under the auspices of EPIK, English Program in Korea, imports thousands of native English teachers to teach English in their public schools.  In addition, many Korean teachers who speak serviceable English are employed by the school system to teach English.  So why is it that when I, a foreigner, approach a Korean on the street to ask the dreaded question, “Do you speak English?”, do I get brusquely waved off, the Korean refusing to even acknowledge that he/she knows even one word of English?  It’s because of this Pico Iyer effect, told in the long story above.  In Korean culture, everything is about being perfect.  A Korean cannot afford to take the chance of losing face, of making one single mistake, in his conversation with a foreigner.

As I was preparing to leave Korea, I heard through the grapevine that one of my two schools, Chojeon, was going to get a full-time native English teacher next school year.  My other school, Byeokjin, where I taught 2 days a week, was NOT going to get a native English teacher at all.  I was baffled as to why, since Byeokjin students seemed to love English and had a higher ability level than Chojeon students.  I finally found out that the other Korean teachers did not feel comfortable having to speak English to a native English teacher!!  So, in essence, the students at Byeokjin will suffer because the adults are AFRAID of having to speak English.  This despite the fact that overall, Byeokjin teachers are much more capable of speaking English than Chojeon teachers!  This is a real shame for the Byeokjin students.

This is why I ask, in the title of this blog: How will Koreans ever learn English?  HOW will they EVER learn?

Practice makes perfect.  We all know this.  But if Koreans refuse to ever open their mouths and speak, making some mistakes along the way, how will they ever learn?

On top of this is the fact that Korea gets so few tourists.  I know in Seoul there are a lot more foreigners than in most of Korea.  But in Daegu, where I lived, I could walk the streets for weeks without seeing one foreign face.  Face it, Korea is not a tourist destination.   The Korean peninsula is quite isolated from the rest of the world.  A tourist has to make a big effort to get there.  And for what?

When I was in Cambodia, I was shocked by how well the lowest levels of society could speak serviceable English.  That’s because they have TOURISM in Cambodia.  The most uneducated and poor people could actually speak very good English.  This came as quite  a shock to me after having been in Korea, where even the most educated people profess to know NO ENGLISH!!!

In many ways, Koreans are as insulated as we are in America.  We are a big land and we are bordered by English-speaking Canadians and Spanish-speaking Mexicans.  We don’t have the luxury, as do Europeans, of hopping next door to practice our French or our German or Italian.  Many Americans never leave the country and have no need to learn another language. Koreans are the same.  Most of the Koreans I met have never left their country and have no intention of ever doing so.  So why bother making an effort to learn another language?

The problem is that no one else in the world speaks Korean.  So, if Korea is going to compete fully in the international economy, English, as the international business language, should serve them well.  Not to say they’re not doing okay without it.  In 2010, South Korea was ranked as #15 by the International Monetary Fund and by the CIA World Factbook as sorted by gross domestic product.  So they’re not doing too badly NOT being able to speak English.  Maybe, just maybe, they really don’t need it.

It’s funny.  One Korean told me he believed that eventually the Korean language would take over as the international business language.  His argument was that Korean is very scientific and English is very convoluted and complicated.  Korean makes more sense and thus will replace English anyway at some point in time.

The other funny thing I heard was that many Koreans believe that Korea should become a part of the United States, in effect, the 51st state.   The argument is that the U.S. has military personnel in Korea, that we have a great interest in protecting South Korea from North Korea, so they may as well become a U.S. state!  That really is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard.  How would it ever be in our national interest to bring non-English-speaking Korea and all of its issues with North Korea into our folds?

This shows the inward-looking nature of Koreans.  Are we, as Americans, like this too?

Tuesday, February 22:  The whole time I was in Korea, my good intention was to do a temple stay. However, one thing or another kept waylaying my plans, so it wasn’t until the Tuesday and Wednesday right before I left the country that I was finally able to go.  And though I had seen many lovely and enticing temples while I was in Korea, I didn’t have time to do anything but go to the one closest to Daegu, Golgulsa, also known as the Stone Buddha Temple.  This temple is located 20 km east of Gyeongju, a city about an hour east of Daegu.  I took a 40 minute bus from Gyeongju (the 150 bus) and then a 15 minute walk from the bus stop to the temple.

Archery at Golgulsa

Archery at Golgulsa

Korea’s Templestay program is quite extensive and provides visitors with a chance to visit a traditional Korean temple which “preserves the original flavor of Buddhist culture” in the country, and to give people a chance to experience the daily life of the practitioners there.  There were many gorgeous temples throughout Korea that I thought, as I visited them, would be perfect and idyllic spots to do temple stays.  However, since I waited until the last-minute, I didn’t have the time to travel to one of these scenic temples.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASadly, Golgulsa is neither gorgeous nor scenic.  As a matter of fact, the bus from Gyeongju dropped me along a road where I had to traipse past two huge industrial plants spewing smoke and toxic particles into the air. I was carrying my bag with lots of layers of warm clothes because I was told the morning meditation hall was not heated.  And it was the dead of winter.  So I wanted to be prepared.

i had no idea i was going to have to do martial arts... :-(

i had no idea i was going to have to do martial arts… :-(

The one thing I didn’t know until I got there was that Golgulsa is the headquarters of the Sunmudo training center.  Sunmudo, or Zen Martial Art, is a “training method in the form of Buddhism,” and has secretly been handed down through the centuries by Buddhist families.  It’s basically martial arts for monks.

According to the pamphlet which is mostly in Korean but has a few choice words in English,   “sun is the way to attain an intuitive illumination of mind and spirit through meditation.  Mu means martial arts and do means way.  Those who practice Sunmudo say one can attain a higher state of mind through both movement of body and spiritual calm.”  Another piece of literature provided by the temple says Sunmudo is “designed to extinguish worldly pain and attain enlightenment.  The goal of this training is harmonization of mind and body, united with breathing.”  Sunmudo is composed of “still training,” which includes sitting meditation, yoga-like exercises, and Gi-gong/Qigong, and “active training,” which includes gymnastics and martial arts.  There is usually “still training” in the morning and “active training” in the evening.

ring around the bull's eye

ring around the bull’s eye

Of course, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  Upon arrival, I immediately was told to put my things in my room and join the other temple stay visitors for archery.  It was freezing cold outdoors and there was crusty snow all over the ground.  Everyone was shooting arrows in the general direction of two large targets across an expanse of white.  The monk in charge demonstrated the proper way to hold the bow and arrow so as not to accidentally poke your own eye out or seriously maim someone else.  Surprisingly, I grasped the proper way to hold the bow and arrow, took aim, and immediately, on my first try, hit the ring immediately around the bull’s-eye.  The monk was shocked, as was I!  I managed to hit the outermost rings of the targets a couple more times, but the rest of my arrows ended up stuck all askew out of the snow like the needles of a porcupine suffering a severe case of bed head.

a monk doing sunmudo

a monk doing sunmudo

Sunmundo

Sunmudo

After archery, everyone else did  “community work” but the monks asked me, since I just arrived, if I would like to see the Sunmudo demonstration. Always preferring “watching” to “working,” I followed his suggestion and climbed up a steep and icy hill to the uppermost temple.  There I watched the monks doing a lot of crazy antics, which must have been the aforementioned “SunMuDo.”  It was quite interesting with monks in various types of costumes doing dance-like steps in what looked more like an artistic performance rather than a martial arts demonstration.

the Sunmudo demonstration on Tuesday evening

the Sunmudo demonstration on Tuesday evening

After the demonstration, I was left to my own devices with instructions only to come to dinner at 17:30.  Before going back to the dormitory, I explored along the top of the mountain, which contains a sculptured MayaTathagata Buddha and twelve rock caves.  I was surprised to find multitudes of little old men and ladies clambering along these rock temples and caves, poking into each one.  It was slippery and icy, yet these frail old people were negotiating the steep and icy patches without any hesitation.  This baffled and astounded me.  Meanwhile, I was my normal klutzy self and kept losing my footing on the slippery patches.

Koreans clambering all over the rock caves and niches

Koreans clambering all over the rock caves and niches

I felt really bedraggled after my hike past the industrial plants and the long walk up the steep hill to the temple.  Walking back down the hill from the temple was not so easy either, with the road a solid sheet of ice on an almost vertical slope.  I slipped several times on the way up so was wary and slow going down.  When I finally got down the hill, I decided to “take a rest” in my bare bones room.  On the heated floor, I piled layers of Korean style mats and lay down to take a nap.

the dormitories at Golgulsa

the dormitories at Golgulsa

At dinner I met a Korean woman who was a Christian.  She had been at the temple stay for two weeks and was here for the purpose of losing weight.  With the all-vegetarian meals and the exercise, she felt like it was a healthy way to spend a vacation.  All meals at the temple are vegetarian.  As a matter of fact, the rules of this temple say: “Please restrain from bring [sic] any outside food.  Alcohol, Meat and smoking is prohibited.”  Some of the other monks who have been here for long periods of time say it is impossible to have any energy from the all-vegetarian diet and the martial arts exercises.  Thus, the head monk allows the monks to go off the premises to eat meat, but they are not allowed to bring it on the grounds of the temple.

my monk outfit ~ pretending to be a monk :-)

my monk outfit ~ pretending to be a monk :-)

Other rules of the temple are as follows: 1) Please follow the schedule fully and on time.  Do not let your personal habits interfere with the program; (2) During free time please do not leave the temple premises.  After evening training do not leave the temple, enter others’ rooms or wander around the grounds; and (3) Please do not wear provocative clothing or clothing that shows too much flesh.  Wear simple clothes.

It was too cold to wear anything but clothes that covered myself fully, so there was no worry there.  Also, when I first arrived at the temple, they gave me a kind of padded monk outfit with a square-shaped yellow quilted vest and a very baggy (and comfortable) pair of gray pants that wrap and tie to fit any size.  This was what I wore during my entire temple stay.

people play drums after the Sunmudo training

people play drums after the Sunmudo training

After the healthy vegetarian meal, which stuffed me quite nicely, we had orientation at 18:10  and then an evening chanting service that lasted a half-hour.  We sat on the cold floor and chanted and meditated in the building adjacent to the archery field.  At 19:00, we had an hour of Sunmudo training.  This I didn’t care for at all!  I came here to relax and meditate and get in touch with my spiritual side.  I was envisioning sitting cross-legged and meditating for long periods of time.  Instead I had to stretch and kick and hold awkward poses interminably.  By the time all was said and done, I was exhausted and aching all over.  This was more exercise than I had the entire time I was in Korea!

my bare bones room with the heated floor

my bare bones room with the heated floor

I went back to my room and got cozy, tucked into my little bed of mats.  I read the book I brought along to prepare myself for India, Brick Lane by Monica Ali.  On that Tuesday evening, it was only 5 more days until I was to leave Korea for good, heading to India for 3 weeks before returning home to America.  The temple required lights out by 22:00, but I was asleep long before that, exhausted from pretending to be a martial-arts monk.

Wednesday, February 23:  I set an alarm because I heard that once the monks walked by our rooms at 4 a.m. tapping on their dried gourds, we only had 10 minutes to get up and walk up the steep hill to the morning meditation hall.

The temple at the top of the icy hill

The temple at the top of the icy hill

It was pitch dark and freezing cold as we slipped up the hill to the temple.  The meditation room was in the basement of the temple, which was freezing!  I had on my heavy Korean winter coat, a hat and gloves, along with multiple layers underneath, so it wasn’t too miserable.  Luckily I came prepared!  The morning chanting service went from 4:30 to 5:00, after which time we did a sitting meditation for a while.  Then we walked outside, once again negotiating the treacherous icy slope to do our walking meditation.  When we finally got to the bottom of the hill, we spent a while walking around in circles in the black and frigid air.

FINALLY, at 5:50, we went to the dining hall where we got to eat Barugongyang, a Buddhist Ceremonial Meal.  Afterwards, we sat in a circle and had tea and conversation with the head monk, telling him something about ourselves.  Then we did some more sitting meditation and many people did 108 bows.  I didn’t do this because of my bad knee, but instead did more of the sitting meditation.  Finally, after showers, at 11:00, I climbed back up the hill to the temple, along with the rest of the group of visitors who yesterday did “community work,” to watch another Sunmudo demonstration.

another sunmudo demonstration

another sunmudo demonstration

more Sunmudo

more Sunmudo

This one was more enjoyable because the sun was out and it was a little warmer.  I also got to pose with the monks in a Sunmudo pose!

a sunmudo photo op

a sunmudo photo op

Here’s a video of a small part of the SunMuDo demonstration I watched.

On the way back down to the dining hall for lunch, I got into a nice conversation with a 17-year-old Korean boy who said that he came here to have some solitude and quiet.  He said he was tired of overcrowded Korea and he loved being out in nature.  He had actually been at the temple for a couple of days but planned to stay several weeks.  He said he doesn’t like the schedule at this temple, especially the Sunmudo training.  He just wanted to have a quiet time far from the madding crowds.

I second his emotion….

inside the temple

inside the temple

After lunch, I packed up my duffel bag, and walked again down the road past the industrial plants and waited quite some time for the bus going back to Gyeongju.  I only wish I had done my temple stay earlier, so I could have chosen a nicer temple without the Sunmudo training.  Another time, maybe, in another country.  Possibly Japan?

Sunday, February 20, 2011:  I am walking down the main highway in front of Keimyung University, trying to get some exercise, trying to get my bad knee used to taking long walks in preparation for my upcoming trip to India.  On my iPod Nano, Mick Jagger is singing “I can’t get no satisfaction.”  And I am singing right along with him, with no care in the world that the Koreans passing by me on the street may think I’m crazy.  I just don’t care anymore.

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no

I’m feeling good and the air is crisp and cool, but not as frigid as it usually is in February in Korea.  And I realize this song is an echo of my feelings about Korea and why I am so happy to be leaving here in 8 more days.

I have had a great adventure here in Korea.  I have traveled all over the country, explored many nooks and crannies that even native Koreans have never seen.  I have been able to travel to 5 other Asian countries while I’ve been here:  Turkey (1/2 Asian, anyway), China, Japan, Vietnam and Cambodia.   I will travel to India on my way home, so including Korea, that will make 7 countries total.   I have made many new friends, both Koreans and expats, and have learned that I have the ability to be flexible enough to survive in a foreign country.

On the other hand, I have endured a horrible 1 1/2 hour commute each way every day for the last six months.  I have struggled with loneliness and have found little in the way of romance.  I have missed my children.  I have had  to work in conditions no Westerner would ever expect to work in, namely, a classroom that is not properly heated in winter and not air-conditioned in summer.  I have been surrounded by people who I know have been learning English for the past 20 years, yet refuse to speak a word in case they make a single mistake.

I finished reading a great novel in early February called The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey.  I actually bought it in the Siem Reap Airport in Cambodia.  In this book, a husband and wife, George and Sabine Harwood, move to the Caribbean island of Trinidad from England.  George is immediately seduced by the enticing island, with her lush curvaceous mountains and tropical greenery.  Sabine, on the other hand, feels isolated, heat-fatigued and ill at ease.

She describes her arrival to the island in 1956.  Her stomach is twisted in knots.  She is frightened.  She describes the heat: “Hot countries I knew, European countries.  But this heat was indecent, like breath or fingers.  Hands on me, touching me.” (p. 198)  She describes how she wards off boredom by cleaning her tiny flat until it is immaculate.  Shopping, she encounters strange unlabeled fruits and vegetables, “forlorn and shriveled” or “root-like bulbs, dirty and hairy.”  Tomatoes “a little rotten” and cauliflowers “heat-tired and turning brown.”  The shelves are dusty and sparse.  She can’t understand the accents of the locals and she feels like they are all staring at her as if she’s some kind of apparition.  She feels the locals won’t engage with her, as if she is an irritant.

At the markets, which resemble a “mass of bees swarming,” where the bright sun is “polishing the black bodies,”  she sails by on her green bicycle, “a white ghost in their midst.”  Her face flushed “with the embarrassment of not knowing the rules.”

While reading this book, I can relate to Sabine’s experience, though the setting is different.  Here in Korea, everywhere are swarms of shiny black hair, straight and gleaming and lovely.  I feel like an albino walking around with my whitish hair.  Everyone wears black or dark and subdued colors.  Things seems dark and depressing.  The only bright colors are on the garish signs written in Hangul, all of primary colors and punctuating the city streets like childish cartoons.

The Koreans all sit quietly and primly on the metro.  They barely acknowledge I am there, such an obvious outsider.  The young girls at the university wear the tiniest skirts imaginable and their legs seem to stretch to the heavens.  Young couples wear matching shirts or even specially ordered matching outfits. I find these things annoying.  Koreans on the street look at me briefly, but then avert their eyes, as if I have some unsightly deformity.

It’s almost as if I am floating above and observing this strange world.  I’m removed, not really a part of society here.  I will never fit in.  I will be a curiosity at best, an anomaly.  Sometimes I look at the strange people in what to me is a strange land and wonder what on earth I am doing here. I’m sure they look at me in this land of theirs that is perfectly normal and everyday, and wonder what is this stranger doing here, interloping in their town.  Sometimes they are very friendly, happy to say “Hi” or “Hello” in chipper voices.  Other times they regard me coldly and with irritation.  Sometimes they touch my hair and wonder why I don’t dye it.  They wonder why I’m different. They are fascinated by the hair on my arms.  I do not meet their ideals of uniformity. In this society, individuality is frowned upon.  Conformity is pervasive.  I don’t conform and I never will.

Yet.  This is how I have chosen to live.  It doesn’t seem as bad, somehow, to NOT belong in Korea.  In the U.S., where I also feel that I don’t fit in, it seems much worse.  Back home I’m expected to fit.  I should fit, shouldn’t I? After all, I’m an American.  Here in Korea, I expect NOT to fit in.  Because my expectations are such, it is not as painful to be outside of things.  It’s the nature of the life I have chosen.  Here I have an excuse to be different, to be on the outside.  In the U.S., I have no excuse.  Yet.  It is the case that in the U.S., I always feel slightly removed from people, like I’m on the outside looking in.  This is how I’ve felt most of my life.  But here, I’m not so disappointed about this.  In the U.S., it’s disheartening, depressing.  Disturbing, even.  But here, well, it’s okay.

I wonder if this is how other expats feel.  Like they’re an outsider no matter what they do.  Reading this book about the white woman on the green bicycle gave me a friend in Sabine Harwood.  She’s an expat, though fictional, who says it like it is.  I feel not so totally alone when I read her story, share her outlook, her experience.

It’s true. Here in Korea, I can’t get no satisfaction.  But in the character of Sabine Harwood, I feel some relief to know I’m not in this alone.

Saturday, February 19:  Today, some of us journey to the east side of Daegu to see the Trick Art Museum housed in the EXCO building.  It’s quite a trip by metro and bus to get to this building, and takes well over an hour from the west side, where we live.

I venture out with Anna and Seth, my good friends from Daegu, and Katy and Danny, their close friends, on this cold February morning.

Me, Anna and Seth at the  Trick Art Museum

Me, Anna and Seth at the Trick Art Museum

What is trick art?  According to the Takao Trick Art Museum website (Takao Trick Art Museum): The history of trick art is old, and dates back to about 2,000 years ago. It had become an established art form by the time of the Renaissance era. The concept is essentially the same as the illusionism of that era, namely creating the optical illusion that depicted objects really exist, instead of being just two-dimensional paintings.

Katy gets stabbed by an icicle

Katy gets stabbed by an icicle

Me and my horse friends

Me and my horse friends

Anna gets a pinch

Anna gets a pinch

Seth and Anna at the museum

Seth and Anna at the museum

Anna plays tug-o-war

Anna plays tug-o-war

mirror, mirror on the wall....

mirror, mirror on the wall….

I sure look happy for having an arrow through my heart

I sure look happy for having an arrow through my heart

helping a drowning person

helping a drowning person

anna relaxing on a summer's day

anna relaxing on a summer’s day

stepping into Tahiti

stepping into Tahiti

Help!!

Help!!

King Kong Seth

King Kong Seth

Katy does a handstand

Katy does a handstand

velcro?

velcro?

ready to swing over China

ready to swing over China

Seth inspects the dinosaur's teeth

Seth inspects the dinosaur’s teeth

Anna hanging on for dear life

Anna hanging on for dear life

me hanging

me hanging

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

me unraveling the zebra’s stripes

After our fun morning at the Trick Art Museum, we visit Costco for pizza.  There we find multitudes of Koreans loading their plates with condiments: diced onions, ketchup and mustard, and eating them.  As a condiment is a “substance such as salt or ketchup that is used to add flavor to food,” we are baffled because the Koreans are eating the condiments alone, not as flavoring to another food, but as the main food itself.  Very odd indeed. :-)

Pakistani #2 ~ “No problem” Viki:  After a momentary and bizarre encounter with my first Pakistani in Daegu sometime in October (see my blog entry titled “chance encounters of the quirky kind”), I meet my second one on the evening of November 6, 2010 as I stand waiting for the metro at Banwoldang metro stop.  I am returning from the EPIK field trip to Jeollabuk-do, and I have a small suitcase in tow.  This #2 Pakistani smiles at me numerous times as I stand on the platform and he introduces himself as Viki.  I tell him I’m Cathy.  He acts quickly as he realizes the train will approach any minute.  He asks me for my phone number and then the train comes and whisks me away to Keimyung University stop, where I return home to my cozy apartment.

The next day Viki texts me and asks if I can get online to chat.  I have nothing better to do, it being a Sunday in Daegu.  I chat with him for quite some time and he seems fairly interesting.  On the chat, he also seems fairly intelligible.  I already found him somewhat handsome as well, though he is a young 32 years old.  He asks if he can meet me as soon as possible to have dinner.  I say if he wants to come to Keimyung University on Monday evening, I know of a decent Pakistani restaurant about 3 blocks from my apartment.

On Monday evening, I meet him at the metro and we walk together in the cold dark to the Pakistani restaurant.  Usually, when I have eaten at this restaurant, I have assumed there is no alcohol served because there is none on the menu.  Viki knows better.  He notes that all one has to do is ask, which he does.  We are promptly served two extra tall Hite beers, the order of the day in Korea.

During the dinner we try to communicate, but frankly I am having trouble understanding his pronunciation.  He speaks volumes, but sadly it is in such mangled English that I only catch bits and pieces.  The other thing he does is to repeat, at every opportunity, the phrase “no problem,” which seems to be his answer to everything.  By the end of the evening, I am at wit’s end because the communication is so gnarly.  It’s hopeless.  I bid my goodbye to him and go back to my cozy apartment.  I write for a while and then go promptly to bed, exhausted from trying to decipher Viki’s botched English speech.

The next day, he texts and wants to see me again.  I really don’t feel like it, but I remind myself he’s a nice enough guy.  Obviously I have momentarily forgotten his “no problem” mantra and his indecipherable English.  Besides, there is never much company here in Korea, so I figure, what the heck.  I get tired of my lonely existence here.  So we have dinner at the pizza restaurant near my house, Dasarang, and then he wants to go to a DVD bang to watch The Ugly Truth.  I should know this will be a mistake, as once inside, he doesn’t waste much time going in for the attack.  The Ugly Truth is that I must fend him off for over an hour and eventually the blasted movie ends and we leave this place.  At this point I am wavering as to whether I should ever see him again.

The following weekend, I take a trip to Seoul to see my Egyptian friend, Mithad.  It is an eye-opening experience when I am finally face-to-face with Mithad’s poverty-stricken living conditions. I know when I leave Seoul that Mithad and I will never work out.

Viki is relentless and over the next week, he calls and texts repeatedly.  No matter how many excuses I make, he doesn’t give up.  Finally, on the following Tuesday, November 16, I agree to meet him for dinner at my favorite place, the Warehouse, where I had celebrated my birthday in October.  Afterwards we go to the DVD bang again, this time to see P.S. I Love You.  We go for a pure lack of anything else to do in Daegu after dinner.  This is really stupid on my part because I know what the routine will be.  Yet.  I go and I spend another 1 1/2 hours fending him off.  When I return home, I’m utterly exhausted, again from the excruciating attempts to communicate, as well as the wrestling match in the DVD bang.

After this, Viki is determined to cook a Pakistani dinner for me in his apartment.  My time with Mithad over the past weekend had made it crystal clear to me that things were not going to work out between us.  On Friday evening, after the Tuesday when I see Viki,  Mithad and I have a huge argument and I tell him things are not going to work out between us.  At that point I am pretty angry with Mithad and so am looking to do something! Anything!

Since Viki has bragged about his Pakistani cooking, and since I am up for an adventure, I agree to come to his apartment on Saturday, November 20,  for a home-cooked meal.  I really believe he is harmless and kind, so I don’t have any fear about going.  It takes me nearly an hour to get to the furthest metro stop east in Daegu, where Viki meets me.  From there we catch a taxi and I am surprised that the taxi is taking us out into the middle of nowhere.  Cow dung and unidentified industrial chemicals permeate the air.  It is farm land, but soon we come upon a small industrial plant.  Attached to this plant is a small 2-story building full of rooms for the plant workers.  I am a little worried and I asked Viki how I will get back to the metro when I am ready to go home.  He says one of his friends has a motorbike which he can use to drive me back to the metro.

Meanwhile, he takes me to a bare bones room covered in Pakistani carpets.  There is a desk with a computer and a chair and a small detached closet. No kitchen or bathroom facility is to be seen anywhere.  I ask Viki where I am supposed to go to the bathroom, and he leads me down the stairs to the filthiest Korean-style hole-in-the-floor I have ever seen.  It is the community bathroom and it’s disgusting.

I go back up to play around on the computer while Viki runs up and down the stairs of this building to an unseen kitchen to prepare our meal.  He in fact does make a very tasty meal of basmati rice and some kind of chicken with a red sauce.  We eventually eat this on the carpeted floor on paper plates, along with some cold Hite beers.  This was NOT what I had imagined!! Every minute since arriving at this place, I am thinking about how I must get back home as soon as possible.

Soon after dinner, and another wrestling match with Viki, I insist that I must hurry and go back home.  I say though he was very kind to make me dinner, I cannot stay any longer in such a place.  I say, I’m sorry, Viki!  This is not what I expected!

So, he kindly but dejectedly borrows his friend’s motorbike.  He only has one helmet, which he as the driver must wear.  We ride along back through the farm fields and the intense cow dung and manure and more cow dung and manure, with a heavy dose of chemicals tossed in.  Finally, after what seems like an eternity with my hair whipping about my head on the back of that motorbike, I arrive safely at the metro and ride back home to my nice cozy apartment, where I vow I will NEVER meet this #2 Pakistani again!

Of course, that doesn’t stop him trying, and after too many ignored texts to count, he drops happily off the face of MY earth.

Pakistani #3 ~ Mutton-eating Gill

My 3rd and final encounter with a Pakistani is on February 5, 2011, as I am returning home from my Lunar New Year holiday to Japan.  Again, I am on the metro platform at Banwoldang, with my suitcase in tow.  I’m wondering at this point if Pakistani guys stand on this platform just to pick up Western women!

Gill, as he introduces himself, strikes up a conversation right away.  He is with a friend and they both get on the train going in my direction.  His English is pretty good and he’s actually quite cute, very tall with beautiful eyes.  A young 31, of course, as they all seem to be.  But he chats with me for quite a distance on the train until he exits at the e-Mart stop.  In the meantime, he takes my number and asks if I will meet him one evening for dinner.

The next evening, after texting back and forth with him all Sunday afternoon, he comes to Keimyung University metro where I meet him and take him to my favorite pizza place, Dasarang.  We actually have a great time, sharing pizza, drinking beer and talking.  He is interesting to talk to, his English is good, and he’s very sweet and attractive… :-)  I’m actually having a great time and he seems to be, too.  He is here working at a factory, as most Pakistanis in Korea are doing, and has already been here for several years.  But.  He complains that he is lonely, he never has a girlfriend, has no luck with girls in fact.  I say I am shocked because he is very sweet and handsome enough to make a girl melt.  I don’t understand, I tell him, why he has trouble with girls.  He thanks me for saying this, but he continues to insist that no matter what happens, he has no luck.

After our enjoyable evening, we take a walk all around the Keimyung University campus.  At one point, we stop at a park bench and kiss for a while.  At this point, I find out why he has no luck with girls.  Though he is a decent kisser, he has horrible breath!!  And I can tell that the breath is not some temporary staleness, from not brushing his teeth that evening or from eating something pungent.  His is that kind of bad breath that comes from somewhere deep inside.  Something that honestly, I don’t think can be easily fixed.  Needless to say, I am disappointed, as everything else about him is so nice.  But a bad kissing experience is something I cannot abide.  Kissing is of ultimate importance to me.  So much so, in fact, that when I look at a guy’s picture on a dating website for instance, I first ask myself the question: Would I want to kiss that guy?  If not, I won’t respond to their messages.  To me, kissing is the most pleasurable part of intimacy, and without that, I can’t go any further.

So, I tell him I must get home, it is late, I must work tomorrow.  I have a lot to do.  I walk with him to the corner and we part ways.  I know at that point that I will never see him again.

The next day, he texts me, trying to convince me to come out with him for dinner.  I say, “No, I’m sorry I cannot come.  I’m not feeling good.”  He is persistent.  On Tuesday, he texts again saying he really wants to see me.  I consult with one of my Korean co-teachers, Julie, about this situation.  Should I be honest with him?  I just cannot stand his breath!  She doesn’t know what to say.  Finally after ignoring his texts for hours because I don’t know what to say, I write to him:  “Hi Gill.  I’m sorry.  I cannot see you tonight.  There is a problem.  I am not attracted to your smell.  I’m really sorry, but it will not work out between us.”

He calls me right away but I don’t answer.  Later that night I return his call and he asks me, “What do you mean, you’re not attracted to my smell?  Do you mean I have bad breath?”  I say, “Yes.”  He says, “I’m sorry.  I forgot to brush my teeth that night.  Please give me another chance!”

But I know deep in my heart that his bad breath comes from somewhere deep inside him.  I say, “No, I am leaving Korea in less than a month, and what is the point?  It won’t work out, so there is no point in seeing you again.”

On Thursday evening, I stop at the bone hospital for physical therapy on my knee, and as I am lying on the table getting nice relaxing heat treatments, Gill calls again.  He says he has just been to see the doctor about his bad breath.  The doctor tells him:  “Your stomach is hard and you need to stop eating mutton and meat and eat all vegetables.   It will take a month, but in a month, it should all be better.”

“But I’ll be gone in a month,” I tell him.  He is silent.  I am silent.  There is nothing more to say.  The problem won’t be fixed within the time I am here, and I will be gone, in just over 2 weeks.  There is no possibility.

But of course, that does not stop him from trying.  Over the next couple of weeks, until I leave Korea, he repeatedly calls and texts, but I just ignore him.  There is no point in arguing with him.  I don’t want to be mean.  I just don’t want to see him again.

And that is the sum of my Pakistani encounters in Korea.

Thursday, February 17:  My two closest Korean friends are two women I see regularly at Byeokjin Elementary School in Seongju.

Julie Moon and Kim Dong Hee

Julie Moon and Kim Dong Hee

Julie Moon, me and Kim Dong Hee

Julie Moon, me and Kim Dong Hee

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. :-)

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. :-)

Kim, Julie and me in front of Byeokjin Elementary School

Kim, Julie and me in front of Byeokjin Elementary School

Kim Dong Hee is a 40-something woman who has never been married.  She teaches first grade.  Her English is the best I have ever heard in Korea, with virtually no trace of the typical Korean pronunciation problems.  She has lived abroad and takes a great interest in the outside world; this is very unusual in Korea. She is also one of the kindest and most gentle souls I have ever met.  Outside of school, about once a month, or sometimes more, we go out near my home in Daegu, either to Sydney Street Pub or to an Italian restaurant for pasta.  Unlike most Koreans, she isn’t attached to her mobile phone; she doesn’t even have text messaging enabled.   She doesn’t use Facebook and she barely uses email.  She’s an old-fashioned lady, but one with a huge heart and great generosity.

Kim Dong Hee

Kim Dong Hee

Julie Moon is married with two children and is the English teacher at both schools where I teach.  Like me, she travels between both Byeokjin Elementary and Chojeon Elementary, so I see her in both places.  When I first meet her, she invites me to attend church with her, but with over an hour commute by train and bus to her church each way, I find it simply will not work.  Besides, I’m not that much of a church-goer anyway.  I love it on the days she comes to Chojeon especially, since I hardly have anyone to speak with there; hardly anyone at Chojeon speaks English except for Coffee-J.   She’s a wonderful teacher, lively and fun and able to motivate her students with fun games and songs.

Julie Moon

Julie Moon

I have been so blessed in Korea to have these two amazing women as friends.  :-)

Thursday, December 30:  In my inbox this afternoon is an email saying I have a message on Badoo.  Badoo is some kind of social/dating website, but honestly, I don’t even know how I got on there.  Possibly someone invited me at one time; I don’t know.  When I open the email, I find it’s from a French wine professor in Seoul.  His message is: It looks like you and I have the same color of hair.  It’s not black!  I laugh.  True, there is his picture and yes, he has white hair as I do.  I write him back and a chat ensues where he asks me what I’m doing this weekend.  I say I’m either doing a temple stay or going to explore the Baekje dynasty in Buyeo and Gongju, near Daejeon. He says, “I hope you won’t be shocked, but I’d love to get out of Seoul this weekend.  Would you like to meet somewhere?”  I say, “Well, if I meet you we’ll have to get separate rooms since I don’t even know you.”  He says, “That’s fine.”  I say, “Let me think about it and let you know tomorrow.”

pierre at gungnamji pond

pierre at gungnamji pond

Pierre is a 59-year-old wine professor in a university in Seoul.  An OENOLOGIST, he says. I can’t even believe they have such a thing here in Korea, as Koreans don’t have a climate or topography conducive to cultivating grapes for wine.  It’s difficult to find wine in Korea at all.  Most common beverages here are makeoli, a milky-colored Korean rice wine, beer, and soju.  But, he assures me he is a professor, that his English is not good, and that he is adventurous enough to come on an outing with me.  Complete strangers we are. Yet.  I’ve been traveling alone in Korea for so long the thought of having some company is appealing.  On Friday morning, I text him, tell him I’m going to Buyeo and if he’d like to come along, he’s welcome to come.

gungnamji pond

gungnamji pond

details of the pavilion at Gungnamji

details of the pavilion at Gungnamji

Saturday, January 1:

We meet at the bus terminal in Daejeon.  I suggest we stay the night in Daejeon; it’s Korea’s 5th largest city so there will be something to do in the evening.  We can venture to either Buyeo or Gongju on Saturday, return to Daejeon in the evening, then go to the alternate city on Sunday.  He’s agreeable to all my ideas, so we meet, drop our bags at the Star Motel (in separate rooms, which the motel proprietors find highly amusing), and then head back to the bus terminal to catch a bus to Buyeo.  It turns out there are two bus terminals in Daejeon and we happen to be at the Dongbu Intercity Bus Terminal, which only has buses to Gongju.  For some reason I can’t remember, we decide to go to the unkempt Seobu terminal to take the bus to Buyeo.  It takes an hour and a half to get there, despite the fact Tourist Information told me it would be a 40-50 minute ride.  Apparently the bus makes numerous stops and sidetrips so it takes much longer.

the pavilion at Gungnamji

the pavilion at Gungnamji

When we arrive in Buyeo, we take a taxi right away to Gungnamji, a circular pond ringed by bare-branched weeping willow trees.  It was built in 634 as a pleasure garden for the Baekje royal family.  It has an arched bridge to a little island topped with a pavilion.  There is snow everywhere and the trees are bare, so it has a stark and clean beauty to it.  It conjures up images in my mind of what Japan might be like.

me at

me at Gungnamji

We call back the taxi driver who dropped us off, and he takes us next to Busosanseong, a hill where once stood the central Baekje fortification and royal palace.  We see the shrine Samchungsa, which showcases portraits of three loyalists to the last Baekje king.  We stroll up snow-covered paths to the top of the hill to point overlooking a bend in the river.  A hexagonal pavilion is perched at the top of this rock, Nakhwa-am, or “Falling Flowers Rock.”  Legend has it that 3,000 Baekje court ladies flung themselves off of this rock rather than chance being “deflowered” by invading armies.

nakhwa-am or "falling flowers rock"

nakhwa-am or “falling flowers rock”

This hike takes us quite a while and when we get back to the bottom, it’s getting dark.  We decide to take the bus back to Daejeon and have some dinner.  I find a highly recommended Italian fusion place called the Flying Pan in my Moon Handbook, but when we get there, the management is at the door denying entrance to anyone.  When we ask why, they say they are “all sold out!”  All sold out of EVERYTHING?  We ask if we can just come in and drink some wine, but they refuse to allow us to even do that.  We find a lesser quality Italian restaurant, Sorrento, down a pedestrian street, where the only kind of wine on the wine list is a Chianti.  It’s mediocre at best.  Oh well, so much for sharing a good wine in the company of a wine professor. :-(

sorrento: the only wine on the "wine list" is a chianti

sorrento: the only wine on the “wine list” is a chianti

Pierre tells me he has two daughters, age 14 and 18, has been divorced 5 years, and has been in Korea over 3 years now. He still has a house in Bordeaux.  He thinks he will be ready to leave Korea in another year.  We agree on many things about Korea: the cities are all alike and ugly, filled with grey block buildings; the country’s efforts to learn English are failing; it’s a very inward-looking and nationalistic culture; Koreans think everything in their country is unique.  We both agree it’s claustrophobic here.

It’s great for me to have company on this trip; Pierre is easy-going and adventurous.  He goes along enthusiastically  with my every suggestion.  He’s fun to talk to, smart and knowledgeable.  The thing lacking is chemistry, of which there is none on either part.  It’s fine, because he is leaving for France on January 9 and won’t return until a day after I leave Korea for good.  There would have been no future in it, even if there had been any chemistry!  However, he is fun and enjoyable, and I think we can be friends.

We go our separate ways after dinner.  Luckily there are computers in the rooms, so I’m able to check emails (and Facebook, of course!).

Sunday, January 2: In the morning, we go to the Dongbu bus terminal and head to Gongju, where we visit the Gongju National Museum; its collection includes Baekje artifacts, including gilt-bronze shoes (which look humongous ~ too large for any human feet!), gold earrings and ornaments, comma-shaped jades, a gilt-bronze standing Avalokitesvara, bronze and stone daggers and a stone seated Buddha.  There are also artifacts excavated from King Muryeong’s tomb in 1971, including a cool stone animal guardian.

a mystical buddha at the gongju national museum

a mystical buddha at the gongju national museum

A 5 minute taxi ride from the museum is Gongju’s “principal point of interest,” Songsan-ni Gobungun, a group of Baekje-period royal tombs.  These just look like a cluster of grassy knolls.  I’m never excited about seeing Korean tombs, but these are right in our trajectory so we might as well see them.  Apparently four of these tombs were discovered in 1927 and robbed of their treasures.  The fifth and sixth were looted 5 years later.  Only in 1971 was the 7th tomb accidentally discovered, the tomb of King Muryeong and his queen.  As it had been sealed in A.D. 529, it lay undisturbed for nearly 1,500 years.  The treasures in this tomb were preserved and serve as historical evidence of the Baekje dynasty.

a walk at

a walk at Songsan-ni Gobungun

baekje-era royal tombs... excitement galore!

baekje-era royal tombs… excitement galore!

yummy snowballs :-)

yummy snowballs :-)

We are told that Gongsanseong Fortress is a 10 minute walk from the tombs, but it seems longer as it’s freezing cold and the path along the highway is crunchy with ice.  We finally arrive at the fortress which sits on a grand hill punctuated with yellow flags.  The fortress is built on a ridge-line overlooking the Geumgang River, so it’s an imposing sight.

walking along

walking along Gongsanseong Fortress

gongsan fortress

gongsan fortress

We take pictures on our short walk up, but instead of exploring the entire fortress as we did in Buyeo, we opt to head for lunch in Gongju.  We search for something suitable, but end up eating bibimbap with what I think are a bunch of roasted peppers, but turns out to be raw beef strips.  Surprisingly, as the beef is lean, I eat it and find it not so unpleasant.

After lunch, we make a trek to Nonsan to see “an ordinary temple with an extraordinary statue.”  Gwanchok-sa temple has Korea’s largest free-standing stone Buddha image, Unjin Mireuk Buddha. The Buddha dominates the temple compound and looks out serenely at us.  The statue is from the early Goryeo Dynasty and supposedly took 38 years to complete.

on the way up to Gwanchok-sa temple

on the way up to Gwanchok-sa temple

Gwanchok-sa temple

Gwanchok-sa temple

Gwanchok-sa temple

Gwanchok-sa temple

Gwanchok-sa temple

Gwanchok-sa temple

the unjin mireuk buddha at gwanchok-sa temple

the unjin mireuk buddha at gwanchok-sa temple

Nonsan is quite off the beaten path so it takes us quite some time to get back to Daejeon, where we end up back at the Seobu bus terminal!  We take a taxi back to the Dongbu station, retrieve my bag from the hotel, and then go to Daejeon Station, where I take a quick KTX ride home.

a door at the temple

a door at the temple

I’ve explored a lot of Korea now, and my time here is about to end.  This place is one of the last on my list.  A year here is much too long.  I’m ready to go home.

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The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2010. That’s about 5 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 30 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 354 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 422mb. That’s about 7 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was June 27th with 39 views. The most popular post that day was Gyeongju, the case of the missing co-teacher & reflections on age.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, obama-scandal-exposed.co.cc, mail.yahoo.com, WordPress Dashboard, and imobilereview.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for hanok housing, catbirdinkorea, harmonious colors, topiary italija, and management systems international boat.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Gyeongju, the case of the missing co-teacher & reflections on age May 2010
4 comments

2

an EPIK field trip to jeollabuk-do: hanok village redo, the world’s largest dike, temples & donkey-eared mountains November 2010
2 comments

3

“taking a rest” ~ a journey into outer seorak-san and the inner me (reveling in being alone) October 2010
5 comments

4

an april jaunt to busan May 2010

5

insults korean style May 2010
7 comments

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