Wednesday, June 30: Filling the time: Here in Korea, I’ve developed an unhealthy fixation on my calendar. This strange calendar fascination comes because I’m acutely aware of time. I’m always trying to place my whereabouts on this time continuum that is my one year in Korea. As of today, I only have 8 more months remaining (alternatively, O my god, I have 8 more freakin’ months??) to make the most of my time here. So, I’m always searching for ways to fill my calendar pages with stuff that interests me…. stuff I can only do in Korea and even more routine stuff.
The calendar is a rather bulky brown Office Planner, nothing fancy, but it gives me lots of jotting space. While I sit in the back seat of my carpool every morning, I study it and think of how to optimize time. I jot down ideas of things to do, my big dreams, my experiences, my vague ideas and notions. I write down my blog ideas, my expenses and budget, my travel plans to visit other countries as well as the provinces and towns in Korea. July: Gyeongsangnam-Do and Turkey; August: Jeollanam-Do; September: Chungcheongnam-Do and China; October: Jeollabuk-Do; January: Vietnam/Cambodia; March: India. I look through other EPIK teachers’ Facebook pages and when I see pictures they post that look cool, I make notes in my margins! I juggle the options and try to determine how I can possibly see all the places I want to see in this part of the world in the time I am here, especially considering that time and resources are in short supply. Sadly, I have to show up at school 5 days a week, which really cramps my style 😦
I also keep track of the friends I hang out with, where we went, what we did. In the calendar, I staple entrance tickets to the “cultural assets” I’ve explored. I write paydays, birthdays, holidays. And I cross through each day with a thick pink highlighter to show myself that I have survived another day here. Of course the empty pages in the future months beckon me to fill them with fun activities and accomplishments, travels to foreign cultures.
I also write down the few Korean phrases that I learn in school from other teachers. I note the classes I need to plan each week and Korean Won exchange rates. I write my goals to finish my TEFL course, study Arabic, work on my novel, and update my teaching certificate in Virginia.
I’m slowly making a life here. It’s tough, because my heart is still pulled irrevocably to the Middle East, and I admit I’ve been resisting Korea. But in my 8 remaining months, I’m aiming to carve out a life I can enjoy. I’m finding my groove… trying hard to both enjoy and evolve. Not very exciting stuff, but stuff that’s important to me just the same.
Sydney Street English Pub:
I’m not much of a party person these days, but I love to have a drink in a bar and chat with friends. One of my saving graces was finding a pub a couple of blocks from my house. It’s the Sydney Street Bar, run by Australian Mark and his Korean wife Tina. They’re easy-going, friendly and welcoming, and I now feel I can drop by there anytime, even alone, drink a beer, and chat with the regular crowd… mostly English professors from Keimyung University.
There’s American Shannon, the most regular of the regulars, and Washingtonian Peter, an ex-professor who now is starting his own business after 16 years teaching in Korea. There’s Dawn, Peter’s girlfriend from Australia.
There’s Seokjin, a Korean businessman who imports who-knows-what and works hard but parties hard too. Nick is British but claims Korea as his home after 6 years here. And there is Becky, a Korean girl who one night was weeping inconsolably because her parents are pressuring her to get married and settle down but her heart tells her to become a flight attendant and travel the world. I’ve spent time here with my friend Kathy, with my Korean friend Kim, with other Korean friends, alone, with Anna, Seth, Myrna, Ben and Maurice and with crowds of strangers watching two World Cup games. It’s becoming my home away from home.
I’ve spent a lot of time working on my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course. Although I’m not even certain at this point that I will want to teach again, I’m preparing myself in case I do. I still hold out hopes of putting my Master’s degree to good use… That would mean a job in economic development or trade. But as I want to live abroad, teaching offers me the best possibility of doing that. I’m torn….
For awhile I was religiously studying Arabic using the Rosetta Stone. But, as is my usual style, my self-discipline has slacked off. I keep feeling that it’s a shame not to learn Korean while I’m here, but with my limited time, I’m torn. I know once I leave here, I won’t really have reason to use it again. Since I must allocate my limited time, I have chosen to study Arabic which I really hope to use when I leave here. I am starting to break down though… I think I will start to study some Korean in earnest upon my return from Turkey in August. Maybe I will even study Turkish – in hopes of going to Turkey one day to teach:-)
I’ve always loved to watch movies but it’s hard to get good ones here in Korea. I’ve started renting movies online and then I had my family ship me some of my favorites from home: Pride and Prejudice, Bread and Tulips, Sliding Doors. I’ve been to the Lotte Cinema to see a couple of movies as well: a notable (and bizarre!) one was Shutter Island. I’ve also visited the DVD bang to watch Vicki Christina Barcelona and others. Since I hate watching movies on my computer, I don’t really watch as many movies at home as I did in the States. I miss that:-(
In June, I finally found a gym and signed up for a yoga class. Myrna and I go 3x a week and though we don’t understand the Korean instructor, we can watch her and keep up generally. Sometimes it’s a little difficult to contort our bodies from the various poses to see what she’s doing, but we’ve managed to get by. I realize I am hopelessly inflexible!! Will it get better with time and practice… and patience??
Books & maps give shape to my life:
Three Junes planted the idea in my mind to go to Greece. The Time Traveler’s Wife gave me ideas about the structure of stories. On Love, by my favorite essayist Alain de Botton, gave me food for thought on a subject that I ponder incessantly. These are just 3 books that have kept me company during some very lonely times here in Korea, and for them I am grateful. 🙂
Books have always given shape to my life by providing dream material. Ever since I was a girl, I’ve been an avid reader, and many of the dreams I hold most sacred come from these magical bound pages. I love fiction more than anything else. However, English books, like movies, are hard to come by in Korea, though Kyobo Books offers a small English section and Buy the Book sells a few used books at quite high prices.
Anna and Seth brought a small collection in their suitcases (for which they paid dearly) and Mike also shipped me some books from home. This is what sustains me when I want to escape.
The other book that keeps me company here in Korea is my Moon Guidebook of South Korea. The cover is curled and warped from so much use. I generally adore travel guidebooks and maps – they mold my deepest dreams. I spend hours studying them and plotting out travels, calculating distances, envisioning nomadic adventures.
I belong to several travel websites: Couchsurfing.org; VirtualTourist.com, using the name of Passionate Nomad. I stole the name from a book about Freya Stark, a British travel writer who lived from 1893 to 1993. She was famous for her travels, writing and cartography in the Middle East, especially during the two World Wars. She was fluent in Persian and Arabic and traveled, often alone, into the Arabian deserts, Valleys of the Assassins, and other places where few others dared to venture. Ah, if only I could be as brave as Freya!! She is the inspiration for the life I hope to lead…. (Wikipedia: Freya Stark)
Mike, surprisingly ever so kind to me, just shipped me a new box which arrived at Chojeon today. I’m so excited to take it home and open it. Inside will be: Rick Steves’ Istanbul; Lonely Planet Turkey; The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee about the Korean war; a novel of Mike’s choosing by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk; and Lonely Planet China. Oh boy, can’t wait to explore this box!
Nurturing my spirit:
Anna and Seth invited me to come along to their Korean Presbyterian church called Agape. I have resisted going to church for a long time because I have a lot of doubts about organized religion in general. I’m a fallen-away Catholic, by gosh! However, after several episodes of depression while here, I knew I needed some spiritual work. The saving grace is Maurice from Kenya, a theological student who speaks fluent Korean and English. Maurice translates for our small group of English speakers. The preacher is also quite good… as translated by Maurice!! The choir brings tears to my eyes, the true sign of a good church choir. Going to church has given me a little community of prayerful and loving people who have held me up when my heart has been down. 😦
We also get together once every week or every other week for Bible study, which I like very much. Maurice, Seth, and Anna are such thoughtful fountains of insight – they are truly blessing my life here.
Yet. I continue to be fascinated with Buddhism and I want to do a temple stay while I’m here in Korea. I am magnetically drawn to the Buddhist temples… I can’t resist visiting all the ones in my path. I love their cool wood floors, their peaceful smiling Buddhas, their chants and gongs. Their promise of peace, serenity….
I read an inspirational book before I left home. Quite popular now, and for good reason, it’s called Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: Elizabeth Gilbert. This book has inspired me to seek a more spiritual side in my travels. I am trying to be open to whatever the universe throws my way in my nomadic adventure.
I always wanted to be a writer…..
I always regret that I haven’t kept a journal about my travels or other wild & crazy experiences. I had the most interesting time of my life in Cairo in July 2007, yet this memory is fast fading because I didn’t keep a journal. So, my goal while here is to keep this journal, modernly known as a blog. I never think of myself as an interesting writer, so I’m often hesitant to write period, much less to share with others the utter boring nonsense I write. However, I like to read over stuff later that I wrote, so I am doing this mainly for myself. Also, some of my friends ask me what is happening here in Korea, and this is easier than sending tens of emails!! So, here it is. People can either read it or not; it’s totally up to them. So far, I’m proud of myself that I’ve actually had the discipline to do such a thing.
My other goal while here is to revise my 480-page novel-in-waiting. I need to cut it by about 130 pages. So, I’m thinking I may start doing that in another blog form (I need to research this!!), with a link from my blog to my novel. I’d like to post a chapter at a time (there are 50 of these suckers!!) as I revise it. Maybe this will give me the incentive to actually do it instead of just thinking about it. Maybe I will even post some of my short stories. Who knows!!?? Grandiose dreams from a big dreamer!! Keep posted to see chapter 1 of what is tentatively titled: In the Blink of Black Holes. Stay tuned.