Reasons Santa's Not Coming to Korea, Redux

Because I'm all about saving the earth, I thought I'd do my part and recycle -- blog content, that is. In light of my most recent trip to the doctor, I've been working on a "12 Days of Christmas"-style ode to Korea, but I'm not done.

Instead, here are the top ten reasons Santa's not coming to Korea, with updated commentary, of course.

Reasons Santa's Not Coming to Korea.

1.He got sick off melamine cookies in China. (Remember the melamine scare, back when Korea could just blame China? Ahh those were the days, before swine flu and hand sanitizer and common sense came to Korea. Wait a minute...)

2.He's still waiting on his visa. (I hear ya Santa. The glut of visa applicants is sizable, but what else is a recent grad with a Social Sciences degree supposed to do?)

3.Dog isn't the only meat that provides "stamina." Look out

4.Korean parents report, "nice, but not nice enough."
(I think my Korean parents would report, "smart, but not smart enough." And they would be correct.)

5.He's tired of taking his boots off at every house. (Again, my sympathies. Perhaps you should think of trading in your steel-toes for some lime green slippers. I know a guy on the street who'll give you a slammin' deal. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy, Santa)

6.Wait... where is Korea? (Right between World Domination [read: China] and The Hot Chick [read: Japan])

7.He's tired of taking hits to the sleigh. Apparently N. Korea takes that whole "DMZ" thing pretty seriously. (Come on Kim Jung Il, the world already knows how much you adore American commerce. Let the fat guy through unscathed and maybe Steve Jobs'll throw down a shiny new iPhone.)

8.He's got all the drunken spousal abuse he can handle at home. Why even leave the house?

9.He's tired of lugging his sack of toys through all those Soviet Bloc apartments. Get a chimney!

10.Mrs. Clause hates kimchi breath. (Tru dat.)

*Thanks to Erica, Trevor, and Justin who helped post this on the whiteboard in the teacher's lounge (oh, the irony) last Christmas.

I miss that job.


Perhaps I should rename this blog "Adventures in Social Sleeping"

So, after spending too much time in Starbucks, they've cut me off. Never deterred, especially in matters of free wifi, I headed to Tom N Toms down the street, where the cinnamon hot cocoa is heavenly. And what did I find? Three people, completely passed out! One in front of her computer, presumably from too much Cyworld-ing; another sitting across from his girlfriend who decided to pay him no mind by taking pictures of herself with her camera phone; and the third splayed across a bench with Korea's Milli Vanilli, two Korean dudes in full dreadlocks whom I'm pretty sure live in my neighborhood because I regularly see them at the Super Deluxe Food Cart around the corner. *side note: do you think it'd be inappropriate to run screaming at them, begging for a photo? Perhaps yes, I think...

Update: the ever doting GF has just tried rousing her sleeping prince by stroking his head and whispering in his ear. It's no use. She gave up and he continues to sleep. In Tom N Toms.


Add this to the list of "Only in Korea"

So, this might possibly be the most ridiculous post ever, but I am ASTOUNDED, I mean utterly amazed at the number of people who fall asleep at my local Starbucks.

My internet went out about a week ago on account of me not paying the bill as I was under the impression that bill was being paid by my school out of the 100,000 won "maintenance fee" I pay each month. Apparently that fee only covers the cost of my Building Ajumma's "trash sorting services," but I digress. Anyway, I'm not paying the bill until after China (so I can spend copious amounts of money on the knockoff Northface jackets and Rolexes my mother has requested), so I am without internet. This is patently unacceptable, so I've been spending a lot of quality time in Starbucks, soaking up the free internet and that fact that no one seems to mind that I only sporadically buy anything. Sweet.

And in that free time I have witnessed a hell of a lot of social sleeping, one borderline pornographic public make-out session and a handful of women snuggled on the couches, sans shoes. When did this become okay?

Last Saturday, after my weekly breakfast date with Amanda, we ventured to the 'Bucks for some coffee and interwebs. The only available seats were a pair of overstuffed armchairs facing a couple, peacefully entwined in each others arms, dreaming the afternoon away. Alright. We turned the chairs to face each other, and did our best to ignore the happy couple. After about an hour, they both decided to rejoin the world, stretching, cooing to one another, and generally making Amanda and I sick with their merriment. And then they started to make-out. And feed each other. And lick their lips seductively. It's like they were in their own soft-core porn, except they were fully clothed and IN PUBLIC. Now, I've been repeating the mantra "Seoul is for lovers" for a good year, but that's because everything is tailored to couples -- the couples set, the couples underwear, Namsan Tower. But public displays of affection of this magnitude are practically unheard of in Korea. Amanda and I were shocked.

Then there are the women who bring their snuggies and a good book, kick off their shoes and curl up on the couches for a nice afternoon of reading, only to fall asleep with the books in their laps. I find this exceptionally weird because, last time I checked, Starbucks was a coffee shop. You know coffee, that drink that keeps cops and college students awake at ungodly hours? How can these people doze in a public place after downing a caffeinated beverage? I've had a hard enough time falling asleep in my own bed on the rare occasions I've milked one toffee nut latte after 8PM.

However, I think my favorite social sleepers are the Korean Businessmen. They sleep anywhere -- buses, subways, park benches, gutters (I've got a picture on my phone of a businessman doing just that, I swear), and Starbucks. For the past three hours I've been watching three businessmen alternate between dozing on the couches, and making prank calls on their celly cells. (Okay, maybe they weren't making prank calls, but since I believe most of the Korean workweek consists of looking busy and not actually accomplishing anything, I think it's safe to assume their calls were of little importance. This is the direct result of the mandatory 80 hour workweek.) It's always funny to see a sharp dressed man sleeping on a couch, his head slumped to one side, his mouth lolling open. Makes 'em seem vulnerable and sad, instead of misogynistic and adulterous.

Of course, one could argue that I'm just as ridiculous, nursing my single cafe Americano for four hours while I pass judgement, I mean blog, on my surroundings. At 3,300 won each, I believe that works out to about 825 won per hour of Internet usage, which is far more expensive than blogging at home. But not nearly as interesting.


Soju wins this round

I'm also thankful for my neighbor's clockwork-like 8AM retch-fest, without which I would have overslept and been flagrantly late for work. As opposed to all the other days of the week when I am just *vaguely* late for work. And we all know how much I hate to be tardy.

Giving Thanks

Hunker down. It could be a long and bumpy ride.

I know I'm about a week late on this whole "Giving Thanks" blog post business, but to be honest, I've been feeling pretty sorry for myself lately and really just wanted to continue the bitching tirade I'd started with Korea about a month ago. But nobody wants to read that.

And to be clear, it IS about Korea. But I'll get to that. For now, I'll count my blessings.

Of course I am thankful for all the usual thangs: my healthy, happy, supportive family who sends me packages full of delicious, fatty American snacks I can never find in Korea and prolly would be better off without. I'm thankful to be gainfully employed (albeit in a foreign country with ridiculous labor laws and zero concept of the 'personal day'). I'm thankful for my health, my sanity, my friends and Skype. God, they should REALLY start paying me.

But I'm also thankful for a whole slew of other thangs that somehow get lost in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Without them, life in Korea might be a little further from Heaven and a little closer to Hell.

I can't believe I'm going to admit this, but I am thankful for my Building Ajumma. She may be pushy and intrusive, but dammit she always does it with a smile. She regularly brings me Asian pears and apples and homemade kimchi (which I promptly toss in the freezer because I can't throw it away -- she separates the damn trash and just my luck she'd totally call me on it.) She checks on me regularly to make sure my heat is working and that my windows are sealed from the bitter Korean cold. She even replaced my shower head after I hurled it at the tile floor in a fit of rage and tears at yet ANOTHER cold shower. She definitely knows the way to this waygook's heart.

I am thankful for Amanda who lets me psychoanalyze her at our weekly Sunday breakfast date. She takes it all in stride and still wants to be my friend. I love her.

I am thankful for Jamie, whose Thanksgiving dinner made me forget I was in Korea. Added bonus? I'm still eating leftovers. Good thang, 'cause my ass is broke like a social worker's with a master's. Come on, China ain't gonna pay for itself.

American Thanksgiving, complete with canned cranberries just like the pilgrims made.

I am also endlessly thankful for my afternoon students. Without them I prolly would have marched my ass into Boss Lady's office yesterday and quit on the spot.

Me: What genre is our story today.

Third Graders: Realistic Fiction.

Me: What does that mean?

TG: It could happen in real life but it is not a real story.

Me: Is Harry Potter realistic fiction?

TG: Yes.

Me: Ummm. What?

TG (in unison): Harry Potter could happen... In the future! (Followed by self-congratulatory high fives.)

This was followed by a lengthy discussion of Hellboy, in which Kevin proclaimed my "Hell Lady" status because, "Teacher, Hellboy is a hero, but he is a boy and you are a girl." They are self-sufficient, cheeky, and reasonably well-behaved. And I never have to ask them to take their hands out of their pants. God, I loathe kindergarten.

I am thankful for this:

I saw this in a Korean department store and about flipped my shit. Aww, home sweet home.

I am thankful that, in Korea, it's perfectly acceptable to stare at anyone doing anything at anytime, which is exactly what I did two Sundays ago when I witnessed a Russian woman cursing and waving her arms frantically at a car cruising up Hooker Hill. But wait, it gets better. Some follicley challenged Korean officers pulled the car over, and before they could bow and murmur their "anyung haseos" three tempestuous ladies of the night hopped out and fled down the street. The Russian woman was left to flail her arms at her husband/pimp/unfortunate john, while the Korean officers stood idly by, prolly hoping none of the hookers recognized them from the night before.

I am thankful for surfthechannel, without which I would never have been able to watch the lamest season of Project Runway. Seriously, could it have been anymore anticlimactic? Also, Dan's threesome with lame-o Vanessa (I hate her!) and Hillary Duff; Courtney Cox's turn as the lovable yet cringe-worthy Jules; and of course my not-so-secret girlie crush, Liz Lemon. Without my sick Internet connection and online TV from shady Chinese websites, I'd prolly be far more productive. *Side note: did you know Internet is a proper noun? I didn't.

I am thankful for the green oven mitt loofahs that buff and polish my skin raw and only cost 1000 won. In Korea, I am VERY smooth.

I am thankful for cheap, efficient transit because we all know I would be hell behind the wheel in Seoul. I can hardly stand to sit in a cab for more than five minutes without passive/aggressively sighing at the cab driver for taking the longest possible route and making me sit unnecessarily in hellish traffic. It takes every ounce of strength I have to keep my middle finger and mouth in check.

Finally, I am thankful that my life is mine. After reading Amanda's post about her students and what sad, arbitrary, soulless lives some of them lead, I realized how lucky I am. I may stumble and fumble and trip and fall through this life (quite literally, sometimes), but it is MY creation.



My friend Amanda writes a blog. She wrote a really insightful, sometimes scathing, and altogether sad post about her students. Read it and thank the universe for your lackadaisical American parents.

On another note, I've been trying to gather my thoughts for a Thanksgiving post. Ever since my fight with Korea, I've found myself doing a whole lotta bitching, complaining, and cursing my



Cease and desist.

November 12th and I'm still killing mosquitoes. Thank you, Global Climate Change!


The dating game

The jig is up. The cat's outta the bag. I've seen the wizard behind the curtain.

Korea, you thought you could play coy with me, like some inexperienced lover who just wants to be taught, but I'm on to you. You'll never change. You're too young and stubborn and I've grown weary of playing teacher. I need a real man to satisfy my needs; one who employs waste management personnel and policemen with the capacity to grow facial hair. I need a man with a diverse palate and penchant for sports NOT played with a shuttlecock. I want a hulking dude who enjoys T & A, scoffs at man-bags and knows that women are more than baby-makers. I need a man who isn't self-conscious or petty or stingy. I want a man with opinions and creativity and ingenuity and follow-through.

In short, I need a grown-up, Korea.

Our love affair is coming to an end. I think we both knew it, but neither of us wanted to admit it. We've had some amazing times together, Korea, but I think it's time to move on.


You cannot see the buddha today

Okay, so seeing all my vacay pics and videos got me all sorts of sappy and homesick (which is weird since my vacation was to Southeast Asia and NOT Boise, Idaho.) Anyway, I miss Sunny Bae so I uploaded all those ginormous videos to youtube so that I could embed them here so that YOU also could enjoy them.

*Please note the subtle differences in directorial styles. And how annoyed Sunny became with me after two weeks of travel and heat and bitching. What can I say, I'm a restless traveler...

Playing our favorite game to pass the time. This was about 11 days in and we were bored. Check that, I was bored. (BTW, stop looking at my boobs.)

On a passenger boat headed for Wat Arun. But Sunny doesn't narrate so you'd never know, now would you?

Last day in Phuket town. We were walking targets, sunburned, and laden with huge packs bulging with dirty laundry and souvenirs. And the quest for yellow noodles, or Bumi, continued. Sunny had to get his fill!


Poorly hidden subliminal messages

Well, it's been another *super* productive weekend. I took a pretty sweet vacation and five months later I've finally posted all my Thailand and Cambodia pics. And because Flickr is SO awesome, my account expired, making it impossible to view anything more than the 200 most recent photos. Whatever. You didn't really want to see photo after photo of white sandy beaches and clear aqua seas, did you? Maybe if I wasn't so cheap I'd pony up the $24.95 for another year's worth of photo storage. My hard drive is begging me to clear up space and it's cheaper than an external HD. Maybe next payday...

(Oh and mom, if you're reading this, I NEED a new camera before China. The Sony Cybershot has served me well on four continents through many dents and dings, five summers of sandy beach excursions, countless drunken parties, and most recently, looks of awe and pity at the fact that I'm still using this dinosaur of a camera. However, it's time to retire the old gal. She's tired and worn out, her video truly blows AND there's a permanent spot on the lens which makes every image look as though I've taken pictures in a sauna. So thanks in advance for my shiny new piece of electronic wizardry.)

Anyway, you can check most of the pics here. A little something to get you started...

Long Beach, Ko Phi Phi.

After a day on Maya Bay.

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

God how I love monks. Especially prepubescent monks. Bangkok.

Proof that my video sucks. I tried to upload Sunny's videos, but his superior camera takes awesomely LARGE videos. Too big for blogger. Anyway, enjoy my witty narration as I happen upon one of the most exotic and endangered birds in all of Cambodia.


Your Mom, and other fun Summer School stuff

So rather than put the final touches on my open class lesson for tomorrow, I thought I'd do this instead. A girl's got priorities, right?

Anyway, last summer I came home to resume my summer gig with W & L. While I was away, the program name and location changed (thanks, BSD), but my two favorite ladies were still there to welcome me with open arms and plenty of sarcasm:)

I had another awesome summer with Kristi and Karen and the Hooligans, prolly the best ever. We had the most amazing, chill, cool group of kids who pretty much participated in all the projects we threw their way. (Even the last minute "sculpt a public art piece from your salty homemade play-dough and write about it's significance in a public space." This must have been the same day I brought the pedialyte to work...)

I took many pictures of our various projects with the hopes of posting them here. Three months later and I've finally gotten around to it. We did the usual FIMO beads and hemp necklaces (thanks Krista and Chelsea!), plaster masks and downtown scavenger hunt, but this year I decided to hit up my friends for more input. What ensued was the longest, most successful art project to date: graffiti. My friend Tony is an amazing artist who was all too willing to come kick it with some unruly high schoolers. He took time to prepare a lesson, a slide show of local artists, and some examples to help get the creative juices flowing. What was supposed to be a 4-5 day project took somewhere around 2 1/2 weeks! It was awesome to see the kids take the time to create something they felt worthy of display. The majority of them even became very picky about the size of their piece, color choice, and font style. They really took ownership of the project.

Here are some of the pieces they created. Oh yeah, none of these are graffiti pics. These are some of the other thangs they made. Kristi has all the graffiti pics on HER camera. If you're reading this Kristi (and I know you are), send them my way.

James Castle-inspired found art. I raided my recycling bin, K & K's garage and CCTD's trash for this project. I think the pieces turned out well, especially Eddie's charcoal sketch on cardboard and Jasmine's "Perfect Woman."

A tribute to MJ, inspired by Chuck Close. Each square contains a part of the larger image. Iconic, no?

Cat Saddle. Not a project really, but a doodle commissioned by Kristi. She heard Cameron utter the words "cat saddle" and had to see it for reals. This is the result. Cameron is an AMAZING artist -- quirky and quick and insightful. I hope his talent serves him well in the future. Oh, and he's a pretty awesome tech-decker.

Bastardized Art. I think Krista gave me the idea a few years ago. The goal is to "bastardize" an iconic piece of art. We usually choose pieces like American Gothic and the Mona Lisa, but opted for something different this year -- 1920's Uncle Sam and Michelangelo's Creation of Adam.
Please note that Uncle Sam is actually holding Mr. Hanky.

"Are those baked goods to have?"
"Are those cookies for keeps?"

The hands project. I like this one for a few reasons, but mostly because one of my "hands" sold for $165 at Valentine's for AIDS. But this isn't about me. The hands are a good way for me to get to know my students (in theory). For example, I learned that Luis thinks the Nazi symbol is cool and Jon is lazy (he glued a found jelly bean to his hand rather than actually filling the space with drawings and magazine cutouts.)

Downtown scavenger hunt. Mike suggested we make a star with our feet. Cool, huh?!

We happened upon an innocent game a of marbles on the Grove...

Lazy Summer School Dayz.

FIMO beads. This was one of three trays. FIMO for days, people.

My dear friend Krista giving her spiel. She's SO good at it, though!

As per usual, I believe this paper says "Your mom."


I'm going to hell for sure

My Friendly Building Ajumma just brought me a ginormous Asian Pear. She's gotta quit doing nice shit for me, or I'm gonna start feeling really bad for all those "Gee, I wish you were dead" thoughts I had last week.

God, I'm a bad tenant.


Just a friendly reminder...

My story begins Thursday night.

In my attempts to quit spending copious amounts of money on grossly overpriced western food (in my defense, I eat Krappy Korean food for lunch everyday), I had stocked my fridge with all the necessities for decent homecookin' -- avocados, chicken, milk, multiple cheeses, butter, mayo, various vegetables -- you know, the usual. I was all ready to whip up an extraordinary meal. When I opened my fridge, however, my nose was assaulted. WTF?! I frantically began touching everything in the fridge. Yep, all warm. Like "been sitting in a warm fridge in a warm apartment on a warm day" kinda warm. Fuck.

I quickly began tossing out anything that would make me sick/had grown mold/smelled raunchy and threw the cheeses in the freezer (I do have some standards.) I hauled my trash out to the curb and headed out to dinner.

Now the funny (and by funny I mean completely retarded) thing about Koreans and their trash is this: while perfectly content to cram landfills with partially used bookcases, Roly Chairs, and other perfectly recyclable furniture, they make a big 'ol fuss about separating paper and aluminum recyclables, food and general trash. So much of a fuss that they even provide color coded trash bags as a friendly reminder to separate that shit. And if you're too dense to understand the color coding system, you can usually find a bitter old ajumma squatting roadside, rifling through the trash and making meticulous piles as if Central Seoul were the side streets of Mumbai. (Sometimes I think Korea forgets that a passport stamp into the First World pretty much rules out the "ajumma as Waste Management Engineer" scenario.)

So when I awoke at 7:30AM to my screeching doorbell, I pretty much figured it was my Building Ajumma calling to complain about my trash. But at that hour, who can be bothered to engage in a poorly translated conversation about "trashy?" Besides, I didn't even really care. I was still pissed about having to throw out my moldy avocados. And with that in mind, I pulled the Foreigner Card, pretended not to hear my doorbell and hopped in the shower.

But my friendly ajumma was not deterred. She rang the doorbell. She knocked. And then, as I was lathering up, I turned around to see her trash-picking little fingers trying to open my bathroom window!!

I couldn't help myself.

"What the fuck are you doing?!" I screamed.

Now, I'm not normally one shout obscenities at little old ladies, especially ones who bring me fruit and toothpaste. But seriously, WTF? I rinsed, turned off the shower, and towel dried all to the sounds of my incessant doorbell. I had to give her props; she was fucking persistent. Obviously she knew that I knew that she was there and she was in it for the long haul. I flung open the door. "Yes?" I questioned.

"Sorry. Sorry." She said with her syrupy sweet "why-didn't-you-open-the-mother-fucking-door-the-first-time?" smile. "Trashy. Separate."

"Neh." I said with my equally sweet "I-fucking-know-the-deal-but-don't-really-give-a-shit-it's-7:30AM" smirk, all while attempting to close the door. But then she pulled her wild card: my bag of trash, complete with moldy avocados, rotten chicken, tin cans, and stanky milk carton. Apparently she needed to make her point to this dense foreigner.

"Trashy. Separate. Food bag."

Yeah, got it. I nodded my head and flung the door shut.

*I just realized I swore A LOT in this post. But I have sailor-like tendencies in real life, so deal with it.


Oh, I don't watch TV

Arrggh, Surf the Channel has been down for DAYS. How can I be expected to survive abroad without Heidi and Tim Gunn and Tyra and GG and Cougar Town (Comic genuis, Courtney Cox. Really) and my new favorite, Glee?

I don't even know what to do with myself. (However, I do like being one of those people who says "Oh, I never watch TV." 'Cause, technically, I don't watch TV.)

I have low standards

*Disclaimer: this is something I would NEVER do at home (maybe). When living abroad, sometimes you get to play the foreigner card. This is one such time. Don't judge.

A few weeks ago my friend Jamie invited me for homemade lasagna. To say dinner at the Chef's is swanky is an understatement. In fact, sometimes I think my friendship with Jamie makes me classier, kind of like osmosis. Anyway, after preparing and rolling our own pasta and meatballs from scratch (see, classy!), we headed to the rooftop for some wine and to enjoy the sights, of, well, other rooftops.

After waxing poetic about the finer points of meatball assembly, it was time to check the lasagna. That's when I noticed her: the Finest Roly Chair my money could buy (that is to say, FREE). She was perched atop a pile of used shelving and cabinets that also looked mighty fine, but a girl's gotta draw the line somewhere, ya know?

"Jamie," I asked, "How long has that furniture been here?"

"I dunno, a few weeks maybe. Why?"

Score!! He'd spoken the magic words and that was all I needed to hear. I lifted that Fine Roly Chair above my head and lumbered down to Jamie's place, reveling in my new found love. I could already picture the laziness this new piece of furniture would afford me. See, my apartment, while bigger than last year's, is still quite small (think Carrie Bradshaw's bedroom and kitchen, and you've got the idea.) With this new Roly Chair I would never have to get up. I could literally roll ANYWHERE I needed to go: TV? Check. Computer Desk? Check. Bed? Check. Fridge? Check. God, the possibilities were endless. (In reality all these items are within six feet of one another, but do not underestimate my extreme laziness.)

So after a lovely dinner with good wine and even better company, I bid my friends adieu and lugged my Fine Roly Chair down to the street. And there, on the street, were THREE MORE Roly Chairs! It was like the universe knew how painfully broke I was and was throwing me a bone. Or four. Not one to make a snap decision in matters of Free Used Street Furniture, I tested each chair. Now, I prefer my Roly Chair to have a cushy fabric seat with armrests and a smooth glide, but beggars can't be choosers; sometimes we have to compromise. After much consideration and a fair amount of rolling, I settled on chair number 3. She had a cushy red fabric seat and an incredibly smooth glide, (but no armrests). I was elated we'd found each other.

My Fine Roly Chair and I headed home. Jamie lives in a quaint neighborhood (by Seoul standards), so I had no trouble maneuvering her down to the main drag to catch a cab. Hell, I even stopped at the Family Mart for an ice cream treat ('cause that's just how I roll. Ha!) And that's where I ran into trouble. Apparently Seoul cabbies have got a set of standards so high they are above picking up a Tasty Dish and her new Roly Chair. Whatever. After four tries, lucky cab number five got us home safe and sound. (And although Amanda put on a brave smile for me, I think she almost had a heart attack when I introduced a piece of street furniture into our shared space.)

Isn't she beautiful? And for the price, she can't be beat.

On second thought, maybe Jamie's classiness is not rubbing off.


At least it's not kimchi

I have officially been single for too long. My standards for what now qualifies as "dinner" have hit rock bottom: a toasted tomato sandwich with bread that tastes vaguely like the overripe bananas in my fridge; a small bowl of what I call cereal, but which is actually sold to Korean children as snack food; a handful of sour cream and onion Pringles. And for dessert? Black jelly beans, as those are the only ones left after a week of me picking out the better-tasting tangerine beans.

Bottom of the barrel here, people.



A hot second to be serious, if I may.

I never came to Korea with the goal of experiencing a different culture or learning a new language. Truth be told, I came here to pay off The Man. And not The Man who helped finance my education, The Man who helped finance my "other" travels abroad, ones where I chose to learn about a different culture or language.

The funny thing is, I didn't learn much about those cultures. Traveling for a few weeks can open one's mind, but it can never truly provide one with the insight that only full immersion can. I am in no way an expert on Korean culture and I never set out to make friends outside my expat bubble (it's not that I didn't want to, it was just never a priority), but my friendship with the Hans is something I cherish more with each passing day, not only for the companionship, but for the opportunity to catch a glimpse of something real and true.

Thank god for pushy Korean mothers.


A Day at the Han's

I just saw a Korean chick wearing the same shirt as me. Does this mean I've been in Korea too long, or that my Fly American Style is finally translating across the pond? Stay tuned...

Back to blogging.

My Chuseok Holiday is in full swing and I've. Done. Nothing. Seriously, I have spent the past few days successfully polishing off a loaf of chocolate chip pumpkin bread my mom so graciously sent me, starting AND completing 10 crosswords, and, um, that's about it. Oh, and I visited Yura and Dongwook.

If you've been reading for awhile, you'll know I've developed quite a friendship with one of my students. There's a significant age difference, but we don't let that stand in our way. Anyway, I texted Yura a few weeks ago, letting her know I was back in Seoul. Her mom returned my call instantly. We chatted; she asked about my vacation, my nephew and my new school, and then she asked when I was free to visit.


Anytime, I gushed. I was very excited to see my favorite Korean family.

Well, the Golden Child had a very important math test October first and he was full of stress, she informed me, so our rendezvous would have to wait until later.

So for the next few weeks I waited patiently. Yura was not so patient. She called many times to confirm that I would, in fact, be visiting her house. Finally, Thursday rolled around, and true to form, Yura phoned.

Yura: Mindy Teacher, when can you come to my house?

Me: I am free all weekend. When would you like me to visit?

Yura: Can you come to my house tomorrow and have lunch?

Me: Of course! Where do you live? (The Han's moved to Bundang in August. I needed directions.)

I cannot possible recount the entire 'directions' conversation, but it was stinking hilarious. Yura insisted on relaying the info from her mom, rather than handing off the phone. She talks a mile a minute with a bit of a speech impediment, so her directions were sketchy at best. Just when I had decided to wing it and call her when I got to the subway station, Dongwook got on the line.

Dongwook: Teacher? Is that you?

Me: Yes, who else would it be?!

Dongwook: I think it is not you. (He's very dry. Love it.)

Me: Who do you think it is?

Dongwoook: I think it is... a man. Ahahaha.

Smartass. Then he asks of Yura's directions, "Did ya get that?" Ha. I recounted her directions and said I'd call if I got lost, then we hung up. But that was nowhere near the end. Friday morning Yura called again.

Yura: Mindy Teacher, do you remember how to come to my house?

Me: Yes. I wrote it down.

Yura: Tell me. (She is so direct and matter of fact. It kills me!) Then: Mindy Teacher, do you like cereal?

Me: Yes! It is my second favorite food!

Anyway, I made it out to Bundang without a hitch and was greeted by Sweet Yura in her signature ponytail and sandals. Like a Dutiful American Guest, I picked up some Korean snacks and songpeong for the kids, and also packed a big 'ol bag of American Halloween candy my mom sent. She was elated! And she had a present for me: a box of cereal and milk. God I love her! I literally squealed with delight.

We played some games and I chatted with her mom. They asked to see pictures of my family and then we had homemade chopchae and mandu for lunch. It was a beautiful day in Bundang, so we headed to Central Park. While her mom and I chatted, Yura asked questions about my family, told me about her new school (she hates it), and asked me multiple times to race. She showed me the traditional Korean Village at the park and then we played "Korean Photo Shoot" and a rousing game of "I Spy." And then I thought it was time to head home. The Han's weren't finished with me yet. Mrs. Han offered to cook me my favorite Korean food, chamchi kimchi bokumbap, and the chance to watch the movie August Rush, one of her favorites. How could I say no?!

Yura and me playing games.

Yura found that noisemaker on the ground. It occupied her for a good hour.

The Hans.

My Favorite Korean.

After dinner and a movie, we were all exhausted. The three of them walked me to the subway and Yura invited me to her birthday in a few weeks. I was elated. And that was how I spent my Chuseok Eve.


Without my iPod, I'd be unemployed

When I returned to Seoul a few weeks ago, I received a very cryptic text message from my friend Matt.  

Matt: Does your new job require you to be punctual?

Me: Um, I assume so.  Why?

Matt: Because you aren't very good at it.


Well Matt, I've been trying my damnedest to make you proud.  Sometimes (and by sometimes I mean everyday), I really have to search for the motivation to get to work on time.  When that motivation proves too elusive, I can count on these three songs to get my ass in gear.

Ratatat, 17 Years

Does It Offend You, Yeah?, We Are Rockstars

Peaches, Mommy Complex.

In reality, I've been listening to Peaches' Fuck You Like a Billionaire, but alas, there's no studio version for that gem. Shunda K is amazing on that track. Officially in love. 

BTW, I am almost never on time for anything.  Ever.  Once upon a time I was a very punctual person, just ask Stephanie.  But then I stopped caring.


Free Time... Sorta

A new record -- breathing the raunchy Seoul smog for three whole weeks before getting sick.  I believe I deserve a medal.  I got a day off from work instead.

I woke up this morning feeling less than stellar.  Actually I felt snotty and achy and gross, but I'll skip the details.  Anyway, not having the phone number for my school (genius, right?), I was forced to call in sick in person.  This is almost never a good idea.  While I was thinking "At last! My boss can witness firsthand the snot practically leaking from my nostrils," my boss was thinking "You were well enough to get your ass here. What's the problem?"  So I put on my sickest face (not difficult as I was feeling LIKE HELL) and headed for school.

I ran into Director Lady in the hall and pled me case.  Director Lady was surprisingly understanding and gracious and urged me to got to the doctor. Fine.  ENT Specialist, here I come.

*At this point I'd like to digress from the "Mindy Goes to Seoul and Gets Sick" portion of the post.  Bear with me...

Now, I have been to *a lot* of doctors in my 29 years -- 3 sprained ankles, 1 broken wrist, 3 CAT scans, 2 dislocated shoulders, 3 dislocated kneecaps, 1 broken nose, 2 chipped teeth -- hell, the list could go on. I've even been to my fair share of doctors in foreign countries. And it is with this authority that I can safely say Seoul has the grossest* healthcare facilities.  Seriously. Dirt-stained walls, grimy floors, totally unsanitary disposal methods (think used syringes in a cardboard box masquerading as a trash can), glove-less docs and nurses... And don't even get me started on the lack of doctor/patient confidentiality.  Suffice it to say it's nonexistent.

Anyway, all this got me thinking about the clusterfuck that is Healthcare in America.  Because, even though the sanitation standards are less than savory, I managed to get adequate, efficient care (including x-rays), WITHOUT insurance, for around $30. This would've cost me a couple hundred dollars in the States, easy.  

But back to the clusterfuck.  I think I've solved the problem.  Do as the Koreans do -- adopt the "good enough" mentality and choose efficiency over safety.  Cut out the middle man.  Get rid of all the cleaning and sanitation personnel and confidentiality requirements.  Can you imagine how much money hospitals would save if they started employing elderly Americans to mop ER floors?!  How many trees would be saved if no records of care were kept?!  How refreshing it would be to get a smack on the ass instead of anesthetic before a shot?!**  How delighted you'd feel to see a used syringe in a nurse's mouth?!** God, the freedom!

Obama, you can thank me later.  (I've always wanted to say that...)

Back to my sickness.  ENT Specialist squirted some mystery substance up my nose, took a few X-rays and with great authority, announced that I had a sinus infection.  Now, I've never actually HAD a sinus infection, but I HAVE had many colds.  I'm pretty sure I do not have a sinus infection and I'm pretty sure some part of the diagnosis was lost in translation.  I'm also pretty sure most Korean medicine relies heavily on the placebo effect, as most of it looks like brightly colored candy. As a result, I rarely take it.  Seriously.

Anyway, I'm feeling loads better this evening, obviously.  However, I am still annoyed that in Korea my employer is such a huge part of my personal life.  They pay my rent, own my visa, and dictate when it's appropriate for me to see a doctor.  Because I would NEVER see a doctor for a head cold.  Duh.

*My opinions are based solely on first world conditions.  I'm sure Seoul's hospitals are better than Kabul's.  Maybe.

**Yes, this happened to me.  Too bad the nurse was a chick.



This is certainly starting to FEEL true.


Land of the Morning Calm

I take it all back. I stand behind my original assessment of the city. A man was peeing outside my door this morning. Cheers.

Back to Business

My blogging mojo has been waning.  Prolly because the shiny newness of my first Korean experience has worn off and now I see the city for what it is: a mass of dark suited men downing Cass after Cass like it's five o'clock somewhere; pushy ajummas elbowing for MY space on the subway; Krazy Korean mothers critiquing every move I make and every ratty pair of shoes I own.

But sitting in yet another overpriced cafe in swanky-ass Apgujeong reminds me of why I love Korea -- kindness.

I have three stories.  Each made me fall in love a little bit more.

My first day of work was pretty much a bust.  I arrived late, met a new batch of seemingly normal coworkers and then headed out for my health check.  You know, the part where they check me for dirty foreigner diseases like swine flu, AIDS and marijuana use.  Wait, that's not a disease.  But I digress.  So I trekked all the way up to Dongdaemun, dutifully peed in some cups, scarfed down my usual Korean lunch of a Coke and some chips and headed back to Seocho. Only the subways have changed.  Where once a kind old man issued tickets there now stood a cold machine.  And I could not, for the life of me, remember my stop.  In English or Korean.  I stood staring at the machine.  God, why didn't I write this down?  

And then I saw the kindest looking ajjoshi.  Now this is not to say they are always kind.  Or sober, for that matter. But this one was.  I showed him my map and pointed to my destination. He nodded, smiled and did his damnedest to get the machine to issue me a ticket.  But he, too, was having trouble.  So he enlisted THREE more ajummas.  Yes, three. And apparently that's how many people it takes to figure out the Seoul Subway Ticket Issuing Machine.  With ticket in hand, I bowed, said my kamsahamnida's and made to get on my way.  After all, YBM wasn't paying my 30,000 won to chit chat with the locals.  Ajjoshi had something else in mind, though. He grabbed my arm, pointed, and escorted me all the way to the subway platform, just to make sure I was headed in the right direction.  How freakin' nice is that?  I cannot, in my wildest dreams, imagine an elderly American extending such a helping hand for a foreigner.  I was grateful.

Kindness abounds.  

The night I arrived in Korea also happened to be the last for my good friend Erica. Needless to say I dumped my luggage, showered, rifled through my bags to find something suitable to wear and headed to the bar.  My apartment was already a mess.  Swell.  And it stayed that way.  I had more pressing social matters to attend to.  

Anyway, Saturday night Amanda and I were marveling at how spacious my new apartment was when there was a knock at the door.  WTF?!  I answered it to find the Building Ajumma.  In broken English she introduced herself, told me where she lived and offered me some grapes. Double swell.  And that was the end of our exchange.  Amanda and went back to marveling and I *assumed* Building Ajumma went back to mopping and separating trash.  Nope.  Twenty minutes later Building Ajumma returned with two boxes of toothpaste and soap, some hand towels and a hot pink hand-knitted potholder.  This was when she discovered the Shoe Travesty: a pile of shoes, three deep, all stacked in the walkway.  She gasped, I laughed nervously and Amanda just smiled.  Then Building Ajumma got down on her hands and knees and artfully arranged my Shoe Travesty.  Oh god.  But she wasn't done there.  She invited herself in and gave Amanda and I the full Korean Shower rundown, demonstration included.  Yep.

Kindness abounds.

I got an apple from my neighbor.  It's nothing special, but I was sitting on his stoop at 2 AM, chatting to America, watching a man take a nap in the street.  My neighbor winked at me, made to walk past me, then thought better of it.  He stopped, apparently to reconsider me.  Then he tore open his bag of red delicious apples and offered me one.  A tasty late night snack.  Thanks, neighbor.

I feel better already.


Heaven is a place in Seoul

Isn't it weird how the strangest things can seem oddly comforting? Like finding a salsa studio around the corner or a Kimbap Nara down the street or, *gasp*, an E-Mart Everyday (think WalMart lite) across the street.  
I am a dichotomy of wants and needs -- I crave excitement and variety, but deep down I need the mundane. I need order and stability and routine. In the strangest ways, Seoul serves up both. 

Thanks, Korea.


I Hate Airports

Dear Boise "International" Airport,

I have always appreciated the quaint nature of your facilities.  You are small, easy to navigate, parking is plentiful and relatively cheap, and you are rarely busy.  However, this morning you really disappointed me.  Granted, I am to share in the blame as I packed quickly and failed to see the error of my ways.  However, your FAIL was much lamer than mine.

See, I forgot to weigh my bags (big no no here in these United States) and was a whopping 10 lbs. over the limit.  Ouch.  Cue the creative packing.  (Keep in mind it's 4:30 AM and I spent most of the morning cleaning up a horrendous pile of dog crap on the newly cleaned carpets.) So yeah, I was tired.  Anyway, I immediately reached for the heaviest and most easily accessible items in my bag -- the toiletries.  This time around I came prepared, stocking up on shampoo, conditioner, face wash and toothpaste that does NOT taste like a french fry.  I frantically stuffed ALL of them in my backpack, and voila! I was under the weight limit.  

I schlepped my ass down to security, dutifully removed my laptop, shoes and hoodie, confident in my preparedness, and stepped through the detector.  And instantly TSA was on my ass like white on rice, informing me they'd need to search my purse, backpack, Timbuktu AND they'd like to re-send them all through the x-ray.  Fine.  I was in no hurry.  The Boise Airport is small, easy to navigate and rarely busy, so I had PLENTY of time.  Go ahead, search away.  That's when Mr. TSA started pulling out my precious toiletries, lining them up like soldiers waiting for the firing squad.  I was guilty.  Of stupidity and exhaustion.  Dammit.  And he was so cheery. "Would you like to voluntarily forfeit these items?" he chirped.  Voluntarily?  Fuck no I would not like to forfeit $30 in goods that will cost me twice as much in both time and effort to obtain in Korea.

Seeing as how I had no choice, however, I said I'd be happy to donate my goods to the TSA Toiletry Donation Fund.  I slipped on my flops, shoved Pearl back in her case and was about to zip up my backpack when I noticed Mr. TSA's glaring omissions: matches, two opened tubes of toothpaste, six bottles of nail polish, and nail clippers right there in plain sight.  In my backpack.  WTF?  Seriously?  How did he miss those things?  And how were they any safer than the clearly sealed bottles he'd just confiscated? For all he knew, I'd just smuggled the makings of a bomb in those containers.  Set fire to a little Pretty in Pink mixed with a dash of Orange Crush, and kaboom!, there goes the whole flight. Apparently he had far more use for my brand new bottles of Cetaphil and Sheer Blonde.  Boo.

On the upside, however, Boise scores major points for free wifi, empty flights and dollar Cokes. That's a far cry from the raping I got in San Fran.  $8 for a day of internet use and $3.28 for a 500mL Coke?  No thanks, I think I'll just nap on this here cushy bench.


The Comforts of Home?

So, a weird thing has happened since I returned home and I'm not quite sure where it came from or what to do about it.

I'm having a really hard time motivating myself to spend time with my family, and when I do see them I really can't leave fast enough.

For many people, I think this is called "normal." Not for me, though. I was really close to my family before I left and I'm having a hard time accepting my newfound apathy and annoyance toward them. And I think they've noticed, so that's awesome. Now I get to be the sister/daughter/aunt who came home from a year of traveling and is a total bitch/uppity snot to her family. Of course, this is all just from my point of view, I could be totally wrong. But I don't think so.

What the hell is wrong?


Wonder Girls do Engrish

I love the Wonder Girls. I am thankful to finally be able to understand what the hell they're saying. And I just can't bring myself to hate on this. I miss Korea. Enjoy.



Where the wild things are

I've been home for a hot second now, and already my list of "things I missed and thought I could never live without and am now devouring" and "shit that annoyed me about America before I left and now drives me batshit crazy" are about equal.  Who knew?

Anyway, I'd prolly bitch no matter where I was, so take my complaints with a grain of salt.  I'll stick to the positive for now.

I am glad to be home where there's decent beer(!), drivers understand the concepts of lanes and traffic laws, my vocabulary consists of more than 'hello', 'thank you', and 'can I have more beer', staring is considered rude, avocados cost 88 cents, walkers and cyclists aren't in a constant state of drunken swerving, I no longer need to talk and gesture wildly to get a sad representation of what I actually wanted, sandwiches, oh sweet sandwiches, diversity is the norm (even in Idaho!), the streets don't smell of hot shit and the water doesn't make my hair fall out, I can see the mountains everyday, good sex, and, most importantly, my friends and family, who are prolly already tired of listening to my stories, but who listen patiently nonetheless because I brought them gifts and they have to.

Surprisingly, there are more than a handful of things that I didn't even know I missed.  Like greasy teenage boys on skateboards and middle-aged men with big bellies wearing white socks and sandals and mom jeans and road rage.  I really missed the road rage.  Korean drivers are krazy and no one seems to notice.  On more than a handful of occasions I wanted to roll down my window and flip the bird to all the offending drivers, but alas, I was usually in a cab and it would prolly be considered poor form...

More later.  I gotta eat me some Mexican.


So long, farewell.

Goodbye kimchi and 'anyung haseo' and 'kamsahamnida'.  Goodbye Baekjae Samgyetang and Anyang Ilshim Gyohae and OK!  Goodbye kimchi bokumbop and chamchi and bibimbap and mekju, juseyo. Goodbye girls in shorts and tights and heels and man bags and Chucks and bowl cuts.  Goodbye hot Korean boys and giggly Korean girls. Goodbye efficient public transportation and crowded subways and social sleepers. Goodbye cheap cell phone service and public television watching (even in the movie theater bathrooms!) and street food and 700 won bus rides.  Goodbye kick ass Korean rest stops and express buses and weekend getaways and festivals and national monuments.  Goodbye 'Dokdo is a Korea land' and melamin and crazy cows.  Goodbye acid rain and tiny cardigans and fold-up bikes and Mona Risa.  Goodbye ajummas and ajoshis and visors and urban hikers and playing with yer feet at dinner.  Goodbye communal dining and banchan and "service-uh" and the Sound of Vitality. Goodbye street socks and subway shopping and free size and no last call and peanut butter squid.  Goodbye panda hats and skinny jeans and sexual ambiguity and androgyny.  Goodbye holding hands and public nudity and love motels. Goodbye precocious and inquisitive students, "Teacher but," chewies, and Best in Class.  Goodbye Yura and Dongwook. Goodbye Take It and Make it Rain and Matt's Abs and Good for Wellbeing and Nice-uh.  Goodbye public drunkenness, feral cats, bench "nappers", stripes, Paris Baguette and Tous Les Jours.  Goodbye GS and Family Mart and Buy the Way.  Goodbye dorm life and 300 square feet and walking to work.  Goodbye shameless vanity and Krazy Korean mothers and absent Korean fathers.  Goodbye Friday morning coffee run and Weekend at Sunny's. Goodbye floor heat, "shit, shower, shave AND cook", wet naps, and sun porches. Goodbye whitebeaters and encoves and spics and rotator cups. (Love you Ellen.)  Goodbye "Nice to meet you" and "Where are you prom?" Goodbye ramen and Binch and Choco Digest cookies.  Goodbye looking like a high class call girl on a Sunday afternoon. Goodbye shiny suits and "Koreanized" shoes and minifridges.  Goodbye Wonder Girls and Girl's Generation and Rain and JYP and K-Pop ripoffs. Goodbye Clubby Bar Slang and Black Music Bar and Psycho and Uncle Don's and Beer Valley and convenience store drinking. Goodbye Anyang and Hongdae and Insadong and Gangnam and Myeong Dong and the stop of no return: Namtaeryang.  Goodbye Itaewon and Hooker Hill and Gecko's and The Red Door. Goodbye amazing nugae bars and rice cooker cakes and egg bread and red pepper paste. Goodbye B-Boys and dance offs and emo glasses.  Goodbye Korean snacking. (That one really deserves its own post.)  Goodbye Norae bangs and PC bangs and hookah.  Goodbye tiny trashcans and squatters and "one shot" and rock, scissor, paper. Goodbye Kim and Park and Lee.  Goodbye napping bosses, impromptu public photo shoots and 5000 won avocados. Goodbye groupthink and homogeneity and Lee Myung Bak and nationalism.

Goodbye Koreasoning.

Hello Taco Bell and dryers. 


Planes, trains and longtail boats.

Traveling wears me out. I'm currently sitting at a computer in Ko Phi Phi waiting for the long adventure home to begin. I've got lotsa stories to tell, but the internets on this island heaven don't come cheap.

Smell ya later!


Baby D turns 1!

Happy Birthday Baby D!!  

Today is my nephew, Derek's,  first birthday and I am feeling bittersweet.  On the one hand I'm SO proud of the parents my brother and Jessica have become. They have become responsible and attentive and parental beyond my wildest dreams. They made a REALLY good egg.  

However, I am sad.  Derek was born 3 weeks before I left the States, so I haven't had the chance to really get to know him.  Our interactions consist of me cooing and laughing and playing peekaboo to the webcam on Sunday nights.  I can only imagine what he thinks of Aunt Mindy...

Isn't he cute?


Bull Fighting OR BullS Fighting?

This weekend I went to a bullfight. Or rather, I went to see some bulls fight. As in no matador, no cape, and very little blood and gore. In Korea, the bulls are trained to fight each other -- a kinder, gentler bullfight, if you will. Fine by me. Animal blood and gore (not to mention human blood and gore) seriously gross me out, so watching two bulls battle, literally, head to head was gross-out free, if a little anti-climactic.

And I got to ride the train. Hooray for bar cars.

These two ladies took pictures of themselves for a good 20 minutes on the ride home. Damn Korean vanity.

Bulls fighting, Cheongdo.

Intense, right?!

Bulls fighting.

Ellen and I were like the bull paparazzi.

Amy, Ellen, me, Erica and Jeff at Haeundae Beach.

Amy, Ellen and me rockin' the Kanyes.

Party at U2.

Norae Bang in the bar car!!

The were less than thrilled to have their picture taken.  Now they know how we feel...