Category: Daegu


Monday, December 13:  Alex sleeps in while I schlep into work today.  Again, he visits the DVD bang during the day.  In the evening we go to Lotte Cinema to see The Tourist, with Angelina Jolie & Johnny Depp; it’s quite cute.  We have an exciting dinner at Mr. Pizza afterward, where we are the last customers of the night.

Tuesday, December 14:  Alex goes to Chojeon with me, where one of Coffee J’s 4th grade boys plays the flute for him.  Alex thinks Little Miss Jailbird is quite a character and he likes her edgy personality; she’s the girl who constantly insults me and wears the gray and black striped knit pants (see my previous blog: insults korean style).

In the evening, I expose Alex to the samgyeopsal and noraebang experience with Anna, Seth, Maurice, Myrna, Lilly and Ben.  Samgyeopsal consists of thick, fatty slices of pork belly meat (similar to uncured bacon). Usually diners grill the meat themselves and eat directly from a grill. It is often dipped into a spicy pepper paste and wrapped in lettuce leaves along with other vegetables.  Noraebang, literally a “song room,” is similar to what we Westerners know as karaoke; it’s different in that a group of friends rents a room for an hour or two by themselves, and the public is not involved (as in Western-style karaoke).

Maurice, Ben, Lilly, Seth, Anna and Alex eating samgyeopsol

Maurice, Ben, Lilly, Myrna, Seth, Anna and Alex eating samgyeopsal

the thick slabs of fatty bacon that are the main staple in samgyeopsal

the thick slabs of fatty bacon that are the main staple in samgyeopsal

Anna :-)

Anna 🙂

Alex tries samgyeopsal

Alex tries samgyeopsal

At noraebang, Alex wears dreadlocks and belts out songs along with the rest of us, losing all his inhibitions.

Maurice, Alex and me heading into noraebang

Maurice, Alex and me heading into noraebang

Ben, the masked man, and Alex in his crazy wig

Ben, the masked man, and Alex in his crazy wig

Myrna belts out a song

Myrna belts out a song

Alex sings a serenade in his dreadlocks

Alex sings a serenade in his dreadlocks

Wednesday, December 15:   Tonight, we go to my neighborhood Italian place for dinner, visit an outdoor Asian market near my house, and then try a different DVD bang where we watch The Time Traveler’s Wife, which happens to be the first book I read when I got to Korea in March.

Thursday, December 16:  Tonight, we go to downtown Daegu and eat fat juicy hamburgers at Gorilla Burger.  Later that night, Alex, prone as he is to making exaggerated sweeping statements, says, “This is the best December I’ve ever had in my lifetime!”  This is so much in character for him; I remember when he was a little boy  and he’d meet some random kid at a soccer game and he’d say, I just made a new best friend today, Mom!

December 6-10, 2010: During the week, I try to expose Alex to Korea as I know it.  He can’t believe the genius of the DVD bang, a place where you rent a movie with a room, sit on a comfortable reclining leather couch under a fuzzy blanket with a heat lamp warming you up, and watch a movie on a big screen.  A place where you can have a drink, munch on popcorn or ramen noodles.  He loves this place and its proprietor so much, he goes to the DVD bang every day while I’m at work.  I also introduce him to the PC bang, but he becomes really irritated that he can’t play computer games on it because he’s not a Korean citizen.  Apparently you need a Korean ID to be able to log into these communal computer games.

lunch time at Chojeon Elementary School

lunch time at Chojeon Elementary School

Alex and two of my students at the lunch table

Alex and two of my students at the lunch table

Monday morning, Alex comes along to Chojeon Elementary School, where the students point at him, touch him, grab him.  Both the teachers and students continually call him “handsome boy.”  Coffee J’s 4th grade class puts on a vaudeville-type show for him, one they had done the previous week for the entire school.  This version is minus the costumes.  Afterwards, we hand out snacks and the students line up to get Alex’s autograph.  For the first time in his life, Alex is unquestionably a star!

Alex and me with my 4th grade class at Chojeon

Alex and me with my 4th grade class at Chojeon

My co-teacher Coffee J and his 4th grade students

My co-teacher Coffee J and his 4th grade students

the girls inspect and preen Alex

the girls inspect and preen Alex

"handsome boy" signs autographs

“handsome boy” signs autographs

my crazy 4th graders

my crazy 4th graders

Alex and one of my students hams it up

Alex and one of my students hams it up

That evening, after making a grocery run at Home Plus, we celebrate Alex’s first day of school at the local Aussie pub, Sydney Street, the only Western bar in the neighborhood.  We share impressions about Korea over beers and he meets a few of my Korean lady friends, 19-year-0ld university student Holly and flight-attendant wanna-be Becky.  Holly adds him the next day on Facebook as a friend.  In my apartment later, we relax and watch episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on the computer he brought from home.

Alex has a beer at Sydney Street Pub

Alex has a beer at Sydney Street Pub

Alex at Sydney Street Pub

Alex at Sydney Street Pub

Alex and me

Alex and me

Tuesday Alex stays homes and relaxes while I go to work.  In the evening, we go to Anna and Seth’s with Myrna and play a fun game of Ticket to Ride and share pizza & chicken.  Wednesday he also stays home, but after work we have pizza at Dasarang and then play billiards and watch the movie Sliding Door in the apartment.

the fabulous Ticket to Ride

the fabulous Ticket to Ride

Anna and Seth at their apartment

Anna and Seth at their apartment

Myrna and Anna

Myrna and Anna

Alex and me

Alex and me

Alex comes to Byeokjin Elementary with me on Thursday, but he is bored out of his mind because the principal has forbidden him to be in the classroom “because he has no teaching credentials.”  This is crazy as it’s not a requirement to be a certified teacher in one’s home country to be a teacher in Korea (unlike in places like Dubai where this is required).   Hell, I’m not even a certified teacher!  Despite this prohibition by the principal, Kim Dong Hee’s animal-named first graders bring Alex welcome cards they made for him.  My fifth grade class gets to ask him questions for 10 minutes before class begins.  They exclaim that he’s a “handsome boy” and want to know if he has a girlfriend.

Alex visits Byeokjin Elementary School

Alex visits Byeokjin Elementary School

Me at Byeokjin

Me at Byeokjin

That night, Kim Dong Hee and Young, two of my co-teachers from Byeokjin, come out to a dinner of shrimp pilaf with us at the Warehouse.  After, we make a trip to Home Plus to see if my Vietnam visa is in.  It is.  I get it and we go to the hat department and try on goofy hats like a bunch of clowns.   Young, a brand new and very young teacher, is really cute and often blends in with her 5th grade students at Byeokjin.  Alex thinks she’s the cutest thing ever.  After they leave, Alex and I head to the DVD bang, where we watch Funny People with Adam Sandler.

Alex and me at the Warehouse

Alex and me at the Warehouse

my favorite dish of shrimp pilaf

my favorite dish of shrimp pilaf

Two of my co-teachers from Byeokjin, Kim Dong Hee & Young

Two of my co-teachers from Byeokjin, Kim Dong Hee & Young

A night at E-Mart.  Alex tries on a hat

A night at Home Plus. Alex tries on a hat

E-Mart: I try on a hat

Home Plus: I try on a hat

Kim and her hat

Kim and her hat

Saturday: December 4:  The first weekend he’s here, I expose Alex to public transportation in Korea.  We take a bus to Jinan, which takes about 3 hours.  I don’t think he’s fully gotten over the trip to get here and he gets a little irritable about having to be on the bus for so long.  We end up in the Jinan bus station waiting for a bus to Maisan Provincial Park, but we can’t get any information about when this bus arrives.  People tell us such a variety of things, our heads are spinning.  The Jinan bus terminal is one of Korea’s more grungy terminals.  Old people inundate this corner of the world.

the crazy jinan bus terminal ~ one of Korea's finest .... LOL

the crazy jinan bus terminal ~ one of Korea’s finest …. LOL

When we arrive, a girl in a school uniform immediately accosts us and starts speaking a little English with us.  Once we fall under her “care,” we can’t shake her and as our wait stretches from minutes into hours, she attaches herself to us with a vengeance.  She keeps repeating some kind of English-Korean mixture of words, none of which we can understand, and then she starts jumping at us and poking us in our heads to startle us.  It becomes quickly apparent that she’s a little uh— crazed.

crazy girl & alex at the jinan bus terminal

crazy girl & alex at the jinan bus terminal

Finally a bus driver speaks some English and informs us that the bus we are waiting for to take us to Maisan doesn’t arrive until 7:00 at night!!  We would have been waiting a long time….Someone tells us we should take a taxi; I have no idea how far it is, but at this point we have no choice.  We take a taxi.  It turns out to be a 2o-minute ride and costs only about 7,000 won.  No big deal.  When we arrive at Mt. Maisan, I see there are no taxis just sitting around waiting to take people back to Jinan, so I ask the driver for his card so I can call him when it’s time for us to leave.  He is a jovial fellow and agrees that all we need to say is “Maisan” and he will come for us.  Later, I am glad to have thought of his ahead of time, or Alex and I would have spent the night in the wilderness!

At Maisan, we stop for bibimbap at one of the many restaurants lining the path to Tap-sa, the temple we have come to see.  Alex has his first taste of true Korean food!  He likes the bibimbap; admittedly this is some of the best bibimbap I’ve even had in Korea.

alex eats his first bibimbap

alex eats his first bibimbap

bibimbap

bibimbap

a typical Korean meal, including bibimbap

a typical Korean meal, including bibimbap

After, we walk the long path to Tap-sa and have a fun time exploring this unique and quirky temple.  In 1885, lone Buddhist hermit, 25-year-old Yi Gap Yong, came to Maisan to meditate and “cultivate” himself.  Over the next 30 years, he single-handedly constructed over 120 conical-shaped natural stone pagodas, without using mortar.   Today, 80 of his pagodas still remain standing.  This is a very unusual temple in Korea, an almost lunar-like landscape, thus it draws many tourists.  I came to Maisan before for an EPIK field trip, but didn’t see this temple because of a miscommunication about the time we had to see the sights.  Determined to see this bizarre place, I drag poor Alex along for his first Korean “temple” experience.

alex and his friend

alex and his friend

alex one with Buddha

alex one with Buddha

little buddhas

little buddha-like beings

tap-sa

tap-sa

tap-sa temple

tap-sa temple

tap-sa temple

tap-sa temple

inside tap-sa temple

inside tap-sa temple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

inside tap-sa temple

inside tap-sa temple

alex under the eaves of the temple

alex under the eaves of the temple

We meander back and probe around in the Golden Hall Temple, which I saw last time I was here.  With darkness falling quickly, we call the taxi driver and head back to Jinan.

on the way to the Golden Hall Temple

on the way to the Golden Hall Temple

Alex and Buddha pal around outside the Golden Hall Temple

Alex and Buddha pal around outside the Golden Hall Temple

I have thought of many options because I want to see a particular temple in Jiri-san park, but after talking at great length to Tourist Information, I find any which way we travel to this temple, we will spend 7 hours on multiple buses on Sunday.  As Alex is of no mind to spend so much time on a bus, we decide to go to Jeonju to spend the night.  Though I’ve been to Jeonju twice already, Alex is interested in seeing Hanok Village (which I’ve also been to twice), so we plan to do that on Sunday.

Sunday, December 5:  Sunday morning we head to Hanok Village.

Hanok Village

Hanok Village

At Hanok Village, we walk all around the quaint little town and do a bit of Christmas shopping.  We buy gifts for Alex’s grandmother and aunt, his sister, his brother, and himself.

alex at hanok village in jeonju

alex at hanok village in jeonju

a pavilion where Korean music is performed during nice weather, overlooking Hanok Village

a pavilion where Korean music is performed during nice weather, overlooking Hanok Village

We see the Catholic Church, a historic building of some sort, and wander about enjoying the village.

Catholic church in Hanok Village

Catholic church in Hanok Village

We stop to warm up and eat waffles with ice cream at a cute little shop, where we find some interesting signs on the toilets.

Alex in the waffle cafe

Alex in the waffle cafe

waffles with ice cream :-)

waffles with ice cream 🙂

around Hanok Village

around Hanok Village

Alex loves mimicking statues :-)

Alex loves mimicking statues 🙂

We stop at Gyeonggijeon, built to preserve the portrait of King Taejo Yi Seong-gye, founder of the Joseon dynasty.  Gyeonggijeon used to be a gigantic building with numerous other buildings attached, but it lost half its land during the Japanese occupation.  On the grounds of Gyeonggijeon today, there is an art show with some very strange art.

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

a bizarre art show at Gyeonggijeon

a bizarre art show at Gyeonggijeon

Art show

Art show

From inside Gyeonggijeon looking out

From inside Gyeonggijeon looking out

pavilion at Gyeonggijeon

pavilion at Gyeonggijeon

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

Finally, we continue our walk around Hanok Village, enjoying the colorful foliage.

at a little cafe

at a little cafe

Later in the afternoon, we catch the bus back to Daegu and take a walk around Keimyung University, where we can see a great view of west Daegu and my neighborhood near the university.

Alex near my neighborhood in Daegu

Alex near my neighborhood in Daegu

alex on the campus of keimyung university

alex on the campus of keimyung university

me & the angels of Keimyung University

me & the angels of Keimyung University

looking at the west end of Daegu, and my neighborhood, from Keimyung University

looking at the west end of Daegu, and my neighborhood, from Keimyung University

We have dinner at Olive del Cucina, watch The Hangover at the DVD bang.  I prepare for a week of work.

Alex at Olive de Cucina

Alex at Olive del Cucina

pasta with shrimp cream sauce

pasta with shrimp cream sauce

Saturday, August 21:  Today, Kathy & I went on a quest.  I came across an article online titled: “Twelve Beaches Worth Visiting in the Summer.”  I have only been to one of these, Haeundae Beach in Busan, and I’ve been dreaming of exploring the other 11.  However, most weekends this summer have either been raining or threatening rain, so I’ve been waylaid on my intended expeditions.

guryong-po beach

guryong-po beach

Koreans decked out at the beach

Koreans decked out at the beach

Finally, Kathy and I drove in her little Matiz to Guryongpo beach in south Pohang. Wow!  This place made the top 12 beaches??  I don’t know where they got their criteria for this article, but this was a pretty pathetic excuse for a beach.  Earlier this summer, Kathy and I went to the MUCH nicer Chilpo Beach, just north of Pohang.  Why isn’t Chilpo listed in this article?

Koreans must keep themselves protected from the sun at all costs!

Koreans must keep themselves protected from the sun at all costs!

Guryongpo is small, crowded, tacky & commercial, and has only waist deep water at its furthest-out point.  We were both disappointed in it but decided that we’d stick it out since it seemed very “Korean.”  Chilpo is more like a nature reserve, not much commercialism, and has a wide swath of beach.  Granted, it’s covered in trash, but all beaches in Korea are covered in trash.  As a matter of fact, most Koreans just throw their trash on the street everywhere.  Trashcans are few and far between; being the anti-litter American I am, if I have a piece of garbage to throw away, I will carry it for blocks rather than toss it on the street.  Sometimes I think, maybe I should just toss it; everyone else does.  But I cannot bring myself to do it.  All those anti-litter campaigns by the U.S. government in the 1970s really got ingrained in this person’s head.  🙂

guryong-po beach

guryong-po beach

As soon as we parked, an ajuma approached us and wanted 10,000 won for a “parasol,” which we gave her.  I wanted an inner tube so gave her another 5,000 won.  Kathy and I chilled, floated in the inner tube, read, waded in the knee-deep water, sunbathed, walked along the beach, talked. We got a hoot out of watching the Koreans at the beach.  No one wears a bathing suit.  They wear t-shirts and shorts/long pants, hats and sunglasses.  Many of them wear these detached sleeves (yes, they’re NOT attached to anything!) on their arms and some wear masks over their faces.  A lot of them wear life-vests in the knee-deep water.  Very strange.  I’m sure I was quite shocking to them with my white hair and my bikini.  Of course, in a bikini, I’m shocking anywhere!

So much tackiness on the beach

So much tackiness on the beach

an ajuma at the beach

an ajuma at the beach

inner tubes for rent

inner tubes for rent

When it was time for lunch, Kathy and I walked along the road, looking for a place to eat.  We couldn’t find a place that served lunch; most people sat on these platforms under tents and ate meals they cooked and prepared themselves right there.  Or meals they prepared at home and brought along.  They sat Korean style and ate these feasts on the wooden platforms.

Koreans eating lunch on platforms at the beach

Koreans eating lunch on platforms at the beach

We stopped at a little roadside shop to check out the goods and take some pictures.  The ajuma put her hats on our heads and handed us a snorkel for the photo.  I guess she figured she may as well get some free advertising.

Kathy with the hat & snorkel saleslady

Kathy with the hat & snorkel saleslady

me with a hat and snorkel in the little roadside shop

me with a hat and snorkel in the little roadside shop

Later, we found a restaurant with live fish in a tank.  To order one of the fresh fish would have cost about 30,000 won, so we ate a simple lunch of rice and some Korean vegetables of seaweed, roots and kimchi.  Washed down with a slightly cooled beer….Simply delish.

Kathy at the little roadside restaurant

Kathy at the little roadside restaurant

Still,  fun times.  I don’t know how this beach got in the Top 12 list….I guess it’s all in how someone defines a “top beach.”  Do Koreans see this type of beach as better than a more natural, deserted and quiet beach such as Chilpo?  I guess they do.  I better check my sources next time.

How can they fit so much STUFF on such a small beach?

How can they fit so much STUFF on such a small beach?

After we got back from Guryongpo, we showered and changed and went downtown to meet Anna and Seth at Bocciaccio, a restaurant on the ground floor of the Hotel Ariana.  Ben and Carly joined us as well.  We ordered delicious formaggio and margherita pizzas & tall cold beers (this place is a brew pub) and listened to some live “easy listening” American music.

Anna and Seth at Bocciaccio

Anna and Seth at Bocciaccio

Kathy and me at Bocciaccio

Kathy and me at Bocciaccio

the "easy listening" singers

the “easy listening” singers

Seth, Ben, Carly, Kathy and me at Bocciaccio

Seth, Ben, Carly, Kathy and me at Bocciaccio

After, we went to noraebang for Anna, Seth, and Carly’s first experience.  Crazy times all around!  Since I’d been teaching California Dreamin’ at all my summer camps, I had to sing that, as well as Gwen Stefani’s Ain’t No Hollaback Girl, Ain’t No Hollaback Girl…..I never knew this song had so many nasty words in it. 🙂  (ooh, ooh, this my sh*%, this my sh*%…..)

seth singing at noraebang

seth singing at noraebang

Carly & Anna sing a tune at noraebang

Carly & Anna sing a tune at noraebang

the video screen in the noraebang

the video screen in the noraebang

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.

My addiction....

My addiction….

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 😦

Calendar with tickets from "cultural assets"

Calendar with tickets from “cultural assets”

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.

me with Korean friend at Sydney Street Pub

me with Korean friend at Sydney Street Pub

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.

nights at Sydney Street Pub

nights at Sydney Street Pub

Shannon

Shannon

Koreans at Sydney Street watching Korea vs. Argentina in the World Cup

Koreans at Sydney Street watching Korea vs. Argentina in the World Cup

Shannon, Myrna, ?? and me at Sydney Street Pub

Shannon, Myrna, ?? and me at Sydney Street Pub

Myrna at Sydney Street

Myrna at Sydney Street

Shannon and Becky

Shannon and Becky

drum playing expat

drum playing expat

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.

Me & Maurice at Sydney St. to watch Korea vs. Uruguay

Me & Maurice at Sydney St. to watch Korea vs. Uruguay

Career/Study Goals:

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….

Kimchi Girl vows to study Korean

Kimchi Girl vows to study Korean

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:-)

Entertainment:

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:-(

Exercise:

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: Dream material

Books: Dream material

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.

Map of Busan

Map of Busan

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.

Me, Anna and Minhee at Anna & Seth's for Bible study

Me, Anna and Minhee at Anna & Seth’s for Bible study

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….

Buddha at the Bulguksa Temple

Buddha at the Bulguksa Temple

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.

Monday, March 15: I teach at two elementary schools in rural Seongju County, but I live in the city of Daegu. So… each day I have about an hour commute each way to work; luckily I’m able to carpool with some of my fellow teachers.  Otherwise, I’d have a horribly inconvenient trip by city bus and then by rural bus which could take me 1 1/2 hours and 10,000 Korean won/day.  The teachers offered me the option of carpooling with them during my first week.  I think it may have been a temporary offer, but now, much to their dismay, they are stuck with me; I’m like the guest they can’t quite shake, the visitor who is overstaying her welcome.   I’m playing dumb as long as I can….

Welcome to Seongju

Welcome to Seongju

Carpool #1 to Chojeon Elementary (M, T, F): I ride to work three days a week with three funny guys: my co-teacher Coffee-J, Mr. Yun, the PE and head teacher, and Mr. Sun, the 5th grade teacher.  During the entire drive, they talk together animatedly in Korean, laughing, making hand gestures, cracking crazy jokes; it’s high jinx.  Despite the fact that I can’t understand a word they’re saying, I find myself laughing along as if I understand their jokes.  I want to belong to their little group, but clearly I don’t.  Being the only woman and having very limited Korean speaking abilities, I mainly stay quietly amused in the back seat.

Coffee J, Mr. Yun, and Mr. Sun

Coffee J, Mr. Yun, and Mr. Sun at Chojeon Elementary School

I don’t know quite what to do with myself.  Some days, I simply fall asleep when my mind wanders off into an imaginary land where Englishy is spoken….inside my own head. (Koreans add “y” to the end of many English words: Englishy, lunchy, clothies, etc.) Sometimes I pull out my Korean flashcards and mutter words incorrectly to myself until one of them overhears me and corrects my pronunciation. (Odee, Yogi, Chogi – Where? Here. There.)  Other days, I stare absently out the window at the miles of vinyl houses where the yellow melon is grown. Other days I just can’t keep quiet and I start yapping to Coffee-J in English, probably taxing the poor guy’s mind first thing in the morning.  When I do that, of course, Mr. Sun and Mr. Yun become the outsiders, as they can speak very limited Englishy.  I don’t like to do this too much as it disrupts their camaraderie and may get me ousted from the carpool.  That’s something I DO NOT want to happen.

This past Friday afternoon, Coffee J and I got behind a slow-moving vehicle and he impatiently tried to get around.  He said, “What do you call this, this slow-moving car?” I said, “Hmm… I guess you’d say he’s pokey.” He said “porky? like the food?” I said, “No, p-o-k-e-y, pokey. Not a food!  You’d probably call him a slowpoke.” He said, “Oh, ok, a slow-pokey! That’s funny!” Then he kept saying that word all the way home.  “Oh, another slow-pokey. Haha!”

Tuesday, March 16: Carpool #2 to Byeokjin Elementary (W, Th) : My other carpool is with Mr. O, the 2nd grade teacher at my other school.  He is also my “manager” at Byeokjin.  I was excited before I met him because Coffee J said Mr. O has a Ph.D. in English.  However, Mr. O speaks very limited Englishy!!  As a matter of fact, hardly anyone at Byeokjin speaks Englishy; I honestly have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing at that school!!  Apparently Mr. O got his Ph.D. in English many years ago and, like many who study foreign languages, learned to read and write but not to speak.

Mr. O

Mr. O

The first day Mr. O picked me up, Coffee J met us in his car at the pick up spot.  Coffee J and Mr. O got out of their respective cars and Coffee J introduced me to Mr. O.  I promptly got in the front seat of Mr. O’s car, but first I had to move his briefcase, his phone, and his jacket to the back seat.  It happened to be snowing that day, and Mr. O drove very nervously and slowly to Byeokjin.  I could tell he was quite on edge, between the snow, trying to speak to me in his very poor Englishy, and having a strange woman in the car with him.

On Friday, I was back in my regular carpool with the Chojeon guys.  Coffee J’s phone rang and there was a very loud voice on the other end.  Coffee J held the phone away from his ear and then thrust his phone into the air so everyone in the carpool could hear what the other party was saying.  The three guys were laughing their heads off, but I was clueless as usual. After he hung up the phone, Coffee J said, “That was Mr. O.  He called to say that the next time you ride with him, he wants you to sit in the back seat. He can’t concentrate with you in the front seat and he feels very nervous!”

What???

The next day, I dutifully got into Mr. O’s back seat when he picked me up.  I figured since he wanted me to sit in the back seat (despite the fact that a perfectly good front seat was available!!) that I could just mind my own business in the back seat.  I planned to busily occupy myself putting phone numbers into my new Korean phone, looking over my lesson plans, reading emails on my blackberry.

Surprisingly, Mr. O talked to me non-stop.  He told me a story that went something like this: “I don’t like autumn.  It remembers me of my girlfriend in college.  She was rich and liked to eat (some kind of food I didn’t understand). She was the brother of my wife.  OK? You understand?”  There was some other stuff about the girlfriend eating a lot of some kind of food.  I tried so hard to understand what he was trying to tell me.  Did the girlfriend get fat eating all that food?  Did she leave him or did he leave her because she got fat?  Did he meet his wife through his girlfriend’s brother??

Vinyl houses for growing the yellow melon

Vinyl houses for growing the yellow melon

a typical rainy winter day waiting for the carpool on the main road from Daegu to Seongju

a typical rainy winter day waiting for the carpool on the main road from Daegu to Seongju

I patiently tried to process his convoluted tale.  Then Mr. O said, “By the way, I talked to Mr. Kim (Coffee J) and he told me you are a lot of fun, that you like to drink alcohol and soju.  So one night, I want to drink alcohol with you!”  Huh???  Now that’s an experience I can’t wait for:-)

Monday, March 29: Today, I’m informed by Coffee-J that our carpool is going out for dinner and drinks tonight after work.  This seems to always be the way things work in Korea.  No one asks if you might have other engagements; they simply announce some plan and expect you to follow along.  Usually, because I’m a foreigner and hardly anyone speaks English, I’m always the last to know.

Tonight we go out to a Korean restaurant in Daegu and eat bulgogi.   On this outing, it’s just the Chojeon car pool teachers; Mr. O is not included.

Mr. Yun and Coffee-J, making a toast with soju

Mr. Yun and Coffee-J, making a toast with soju

Bulgogi is made from thin slices of sirloin or other prime cuts of beef.  Before cooking, the meat is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, pepper and other ingredients such as scallions, garlic, onions or mushrooms.

Bulgogi is traditionally grilled, but pan cooking has become popular as well. Whole cloves of garlic, sliced onions and chopped green peppers are often grilled or fried with the meat.  This dish is sometimes served with a side of lettuce, which is used to wrap a slice of cooked meat, often along with a dab of ssamjang (a thick spicy sauce made of soy bean paste, a red chili condiment, sesame oil, garlic, green onions, and optionally brown sugar), or other side dishes, and then eaten together. (Wikipedia: Bulgogi)

Mr. Yun, Coffee-J, me and Mr. Sun at our bulgogi dinner

Mr. Yun, Coffee-J, me and Mr. Sun at our bulgogi dinner

As always at any Korean gathering, the meal is accompanied by huge amounts of beer and soju, a distilled South Korean beverage traditionally made from rice.  It tastes similar to vodka but sweeter (Wikipedia: Soju).  There are always some bottles of Fanta also floating around.

Me and Mr. Sun

Me and Mr. Sun making a toast with soju

In short order, with all the soju and beer going around, everyone is quite drunk.  We laugh a lot and I feel like these carpooling co-teachers of mine are becoming good friends.

Mr. Sun and I have a race to see who can drink our soup the fastest

Mr. Sun and I have a race to see who can drink our soup the fastest

Mr. Yun doesn't speak a word of English, but he's always a jolly fellow

Mr. Yun doesn’t speak a word of English, but he’s always a jolly fellow

After dinner, we go to noraebang, where we all have a grand time belting out songs, both Korean and English.  Crazy times!!

me, probably singing Hotel California, always my song of choice! :-)

me, probably singing Hotel California, always my song of choice! 🙂

me and Mr. Yun singing in the noraebang

me and Mr. Yun singing in the noraebang

Tuesday, April 27: Today, I’m informed once again that we’re having a carpool party, this time including Mr. O from Byeokjin Elementary.  After work, we head to a restaurant between Seongju and Daegu.  As always, the meal includes a lot of beer and soju and as always, there are lots of laughs and high jinx.  This is typical Korean culture that I experienced too many times to count!

Coffee-J's face always turns bright red when he drinks

Coffee-J’s face always turns bright red when he drinks

me holding a bottle of soju

me holding a bottle of soju

Coffee-J with chopstick teeth

Coffee-J with chopstick teeth

the typical Korean pose with the V-sign

the typical Korean pose with the V-sign

Take one down and pass it around, 99 bottles of soju on the wall :-)

Take one down and pass it around, 99 bottles of soju on the wall 🙂

a pose with bottles of beer and soju

a pose with bottles of beer and soju

Thursday, March 25: Here are some funny little tidbits about being klueless in korea:

  • Yesterday, Mr. O said, “Mrs. Cathy, the students at Byeokjin Elementary really like your style of teaching.  What do you think about this problem?”  Hmmm…. I said, “Mr. O, do you mean the students DO like my style of teaching or they DON’T like my style of teaching?” He said, “They DO like your style of teaching….. So, what do you think about this problem?”  Uhhhh… I didn’t say a word because, honestly, I don’t have a klue what to think about this “problem.”

    Byeokjin Elementary

    Byeokjin Elementary

  • One day, in usual Korean style, I was whisked away to a meeting for English teachers at the Seongju Office of Education.  Attendees were all the Korean and the native English teachers who teach English in the county.  Surprisingly, the meeting was all in Korean!!  Later, I asked Coffee-J, “What was that meeting about, anyway?” He said, “Oh, he was saying that Seongju County has the lowest level of English-speaking ability in all of Gyeongsangbuk-do province.”  Ohhhhhhh, now that comes as a surprise:-)
  • At Byeokjin Elementary, I only teach 3 classes a day, so I do all my lesson plans on the days I am there, on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  My Chojeon days are totally booked with classes, so I count on this planning time at Byeokjin.  One day while at Byeokjin, Mr. O said, “Today the teachers from Chojeon are here in the office. They will take you to Chojeon.”  I said, “But, Mr. O, it’s my day to do planning at Byeokjin.  I don’t want to go to Chojeon.” Mr. O said, “You go to Chojeon.  The teachers are here.”  He led me to an office where the 3 administration staff from Chojeon were waiting for me.  I asked them, “What’s going on?” Puzzled, they just looked at me. None of them speak English.  They motioned for me to sit.  I sat for about 20 minutes, then we all piled in a van bound for Chojeon.  I thought I must be in trouble.  What had I done??  When we got to Chojeon, the admin people told me to sit in their office.  I still had no idea what was going on.  After an hour or so, Coffee J finally showed up and said the parents were visiting the school and the principal wanted the parents to meet the English teacher.  This “meeting” of the parents consisted of me standing at the front of the auditorium with all the other teachers and bowing to them when the principal called my name.  That was it.  Two hours lost of my planning day…. Hmmm….As usual: klueless in korea.

    Chojeon Elementary School

    Chojeon Elementary School

  • Myrna and I went to our favorite restaurant on the ground floor below our apartments.  Most Korean menus are only in Korean, but they usually have color photos of the dishes so you can pick something fairly easily.  This menu had no pictures.  After much English chatter to the waitress who spoke only in Korean, she finally said a word we recognized.  “Egg roll.” We breathed a sigh of relief, “Yes, we’ll take it!” We pictured Chinese egg rolls.  Instead a giant omelet-looking roll came out.  Ah, yessss!!! EGG ROLL!!

    Egg Roll

    Egg Roll

  • The second grade teacher at Chojeon, who is a woman, says repeatedly to me, “Yes, sir.” “Of course, sir.” “What would you like, sir?”  I don’t have the heart to correct her.  After all, what is the alternative? “Yes, Mam??” Yikes!
  • Apparently it is frowned upon in Korea to wear sleeveless shirts.  Yet, many women and girls wear either micro-mini skirts or hot-pant-like shorts.  What’s the deal with that?  I think I’ve made the executive decision to try shock and awe.  Since I brought along loads of sleeveless shirts, I will wear them.  I wonder what will happen??
  • Korean women keep inviting me to attend church with them on Sundays.  I have invites for the next two Sundays, one at a Baptist Church and one at a Catholic Church.  I wonder, do I look like I need saving?
  • In typical Korean fashion, we are expected to remove our street shoes upon entering buildings.  In restaurants or homes, we can just wear socks.  In the school, we put on slippers.  But, here’s the thing.  We wear the slippers all day, even though we go outdoors to another building for lunch.  We don’t change back into our street shoes when we walk outside to go to the lunch building.  We wear our slippers outside.  Baffling…..
  • Funny thing is, whenever we go to any restaurant, and no matter how many people are in the party, we only get one menu.  Try having five people grabbing at the menu at once to see what to order!! Myrna gets so irritated by this that she has devised an entire system of hand gestures to insist that the waiter bring us each a menu.  LOL 🙂
  • Last night, Myrna and I went to dinner with three of her coworkers.  After all of us grabbing at the one menu to make our choices and after listening to a lot of Korean chatter, we ordered several pasta dishes and a pizza.  Myrna and I chose one creamy shrimp pasta dish.  When it came, we each took small portions so the others could have some as well.  We loved the dish!! Much to our irritation, the guy co-teacher grabbed the bowl and dumped the whole remaining amount of pasta on to his plate.  Then he let it sit there and get cold while he played with his mobile, checking who knows what.  Myrna and I looked at each other in bafflement and Myrna finally said, are you going to eat that??  Because if you’re not, we would like it!  He said he was resting, then he continued to play with his phone.  We both wanted to strangle him!!  Finally, about a half hour later, after it was thoroughly cooled, he gobbled down the whole plate of pasta.   Manners, anyone?
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