Saturday, November 28, 2009

It Was a Summer of Red Fingernails

While going through some documents on my computer tonight, I stumbled upon this freewrite I did at the end of the summer. I meant to publish it as soon as I started this blog, but the whole "moving to Korea" thing got in the way and I forgot about it.
It's a really good wrap-up of my summer, which I still claim to be the best of my life thus far. Hope you enjoy reading it ... it still makes me smile.

Red Fingernails

It was a summer of red fingernails. A summer filled with Farmer’s Markets, reading in the hammock, backyard BBQs and wine spritzers. River hair, secret Sandy beaches, suntans and dirty feet. Life-changing dances, little (big) dogs and third roommates. Walks on the waterfront, half price sushi and hilarious elevator rides. Concerts by the river, weekends at the beach and celebrating loved ones we cherish and those we miss most. Memories of first loves, first losses and wishes for the future. Stolen kisses, pillow talk and domestic bliss. A summer of heartbreak and the art of letting go.  Losing loves but not losing the lessons. Of new puppies, encouragement and travel plans. Wedding vows, family time and dancing with your shoes off. A summer of bittersweet closure and future doors flinging open. A summer of overwhelming contentment. A summer of throw-your-head-back-and-laugh-til-you-cry. A summer that reminds you of the greatest gift called Life. The best summer ever.

Korean Paradox

There are things I love about Korea and there are things that drive me nuts about Korea. Here's the list so far, which I'm sure will be edited/added to as this year progresses.


-The food. It's fresh, spicy, mostly healthy and very cheap. That is, if you eat locally. I live in a neighborhood with many Western restaurants too, so the options can be bad if you so choose. I've only succumbed to them a couple of times. I blame being homesick :) I'm hooked on gimbap, ramyon, kimchee, fresh tofu, pickled radishes, bibimbap, just-laid speckled brown eggs, seafood that is still swimming at the restaurant or grocery store, amazing fruits and vegetables and meat that isn't plumped with hormones and salt water.

           Gimbap - like Korean sushi, filled with pickled vegetables, tuna, kimchee ... so delicious!

             Ramyon - wayyyy better than Top Ramen and very spicy. It's my favorite "junky" Korean food.

Bibimbap - a ricebowl with veggies, meat and spicy red pepper sauce, topped with a fried egg. The small side dishes are called banchan and are served with almost every Korean meal. Kimchee, pickled vegetables, soups, sometimes even things like macaroni salad!

-The people, for the most part. My Korean coworkers are so sweet, helpful and kind. The store owners have been patient while I learn basic phrases, handle Korean money and always smile and wait while I fumble around with my wallet.

-The weather. Although it's almost December and pretty chilly, most days here are sunny and bright. Compared to Oregon winters which are rainy and miserable, the sunny days here have been glorious. Although I've heard that July and August is monsoon season so I'll probably be eating my words while everyone at home is enjoying perfect summer days.

The beach in Busan! Gorgeous!

-The subway. It's clean, fast, cheap, efficient and very easy to get around. There are signs in English everywhere and it's not complicated to figure out how to get from here to there. It's awesome for people watching too, which is one of my favorite things to do.

-Heated floors. Probably one of the most genius inventions ever. The heating systems run under the floors through water pipes, so it's efficient too. There is nothing better on a cold morning than climbing out of bed, your feet hitting the toasty floor. Milo loves it too.

-Showering in the entire bathroom. I thought it was the weirdest, craziest concept when I arrived, but now I absolutely love it. You don't feel boxed in, it's super easy to clean the bathroom (just spray with cleaner and literally hose the entire thing down) and you're forced to keep all your stuff in the cabinet. Good for people like me who have lots of products!

-Keyless entry. My apartment door has a code to get in, so I don't ever have to worry about forgetting my keys at home. My current place has a key fob for the front door, but my new place has keyless entry for both the main door and my apartment. Score!


-The people, sometimes. For the most part, people are great. On the other hand, there are some that ruin it for 90% of the others. Last week, an old woman (called ajummas) followed my coworker from the subway station (she had been following her for 5 stops), yelling at her and basically telling her to get out of the country. She continued this into our school building, until the nice cleaning ladies stopped her from getting into the elevator with my coworker for further berating. That same day, a friend told me about how an ajumma pushed a special needs man off the bus steps, onto the street, flat on his face and then walked over him while yelling at him. This story almost had me in tears. I am all for respecting your elders, as long as they give respect back. I'm glad I wasn't present to witness either of these situations firsthand, because I don't know what I would have done. I'm sure there will be a time that I will witness these things and it makes me very sad.

Most of the old ladies here are wonderful and sweet, like this one. It's too bad that some ruin the reputation for the others. I guess that's true for any group of people though...

-Totally ignoring signs. On the subway steps, there are clear postings in English and Korean that say "Keep right," as in the flow of foot traffic. Everyone literally does the opposite. It's so frustrating! I've mastered the art of dodging people left and right, and don't even apologize anymore when I ram into others. Maybe it's an Oregon thing, but the blatant disregard for anyone else on the street or in the subway is baffling. I'll do really well when I visit New York someday!

-High heels. Specifically, the ones worn by women in my apartment building. The stairs are made of granite and there is constant click-clacking up and down, over and over and over again, at all hours of the day and night. I really hope my new apartment has more foreigners and/or tenants that like to wear flats. However, I don't think my odds are good. Women wear the highest heels imaginable here. Everywhere. The beach, hiking (seriously), on the street, in the subway. Everywhere. This place is a podiatrist's nightmare.

-No dryers. I miss warm, fluffy towels and wrinkle-free tshirts. Doing your laundry here means thinking ahead at least 24 hours. And jeans? You're looking at a two day drying period, minimum. Mmm, crunchy clothes.

-No ovens. I miss roasting vegetables and making tuna melts under the broiler. I was never really that much of a baker, but I've had the urge to make cookies more than once since I've arrived. No croutons with old bread ends, and forget about a turkey for Thanksgiving. Sigh.

That's it so far, but I'm sure it will be amended and added to as my experience continues. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dynamic Busan

Living in a large metropolitan area has been so great. I'm definitely a city girl at heart. I love the constant energy, the throngs of people, the nonstop entertainment. I still walk the streets with a bit of awe that I'm actually living in Asia. I think I'm getting pretty good at finding my way around too. 

Other good news - I found out that my new apartment is only about 5 minutes away from my current place, and even closer to my best friend here in Busan! It's a newer complex as well, and even though the hassle of moving sounds like such a headache right now, it could be so much worse. Hopefully my school will help me move too. The plan is for next Sunday so I'll spend this week packing and cleaning this place. Poor Milo will have to deal with a third move in two months, but I'm sure he'll be fine. Good thing he's cute, snuggly and I love him so much!

Ok, on to pictures of city life!

These are shots from the Busan Train station, while I was waiting to pick Mary up last weekend. The trains to and from Daegu to Busan are cheap (around $10), fast, run multiple times an hour and the station is pretty easy to navigate. It was so great seeing Mary and we are both loving life in Korea. We would turn to each other a few times during the weekend and exclaim, "Holy smokes, we live in Korea!?!?" It was awesome.

Here is the Busan Station - it's huge but easy to get around.

Some shots around the taxi area and the front of the station. Cool art and pretty trees ...

Here are some pictures of Mary, Mel and I on Gwangalli Beach at sunset. It was cold, but beautiful. Mel is a friend of Kindra and Sean's that I met at their wedding this summer. She has been my best friend here and the biggest support I could ask for. We have decided that we were separated at birth :) She's amazing and one of the best things about Busan. And now I live 6 blocks from her, whoohoo! The last picture is us poking a bit of fun at the love of peace signs in all Korean photos, ha! Although my peace-loving self can definitely appreciate :)

Here are some random shots around my neighborhood. The McDonalds was a landmark Mel and I used my first few weeks here to meet up with each other. I still laugh when I think of how embarrassing that is! 

Mel and I attempted to see a movie this weekend but I ended up getting some great pictures from the elevator instead. Not a total loss! The last one is my subway station, taken one night on my way home from work.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Shoe Has Dropped

For the most part, I try to be a glass-half-full kind of girl. I've always thought that being cheerful and positive was the best route. Although I've had my fair share of ups and downs, looking at the bright side has always been my goal. Although I try not to be pessimistic, sometimes I think things are too good to be true and I seem to hold my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. This experience in Korea has gone so smoothly that I've wondered what the catch would be sooner or later. The time has come.

After numerous emails and assurance from my school that everything would be fine with Milo, I've encountered a major problem. At first they just told me to keep a low profile with him. Then they told me that if my landlord happened to see him, to say that I was just watching him for a friend. Then the other day my cable was being installed, and my crazy landlord Mr. Sung saw Milo pop his head out from under the covers. My cover was blown, so to speak. He began to scold me and pointed to the door, repeating, Today, today! Which I took to mean that he wanted Milo to be out that day. I froze and told him yes, because I didn't know what else to say. I frantically called and emailed my boss to ask her what I should do. Later that day at school, she assured me that they would work something out with the landlord and it would work out fine. Ahhhh, my first experience with the contradiction that is Korean communication.

The next day I was informed I had to move. Out of my adorable apartment. Away from the perfect neighborhood that I've grown to love these last 2 weeks. Away from the five minute walk to my closest friend in Busan. Away from the convenient landmark that always assured me I would be able to find home. I was devastated. I was also extremely annoyed. I've moved twice in the last month and I am tired of carting my things around. I finally got cable. I finally figured out the fastest route to the subway and the best place to get kimbap and pizza in a cup when I was feeling homesick. It's not fair. I want to stomp my feet and throw a tantrum. But I'm almost 30 years old and life isn't fair. Things happen and things suck. This is one of those moments. I'm trying to think positively and hope that my new apartment will be even better than this one. I have to keep telling myself that or I'll go crazy. Stupid landlord ...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An American in Korea

Almost two weeks have passed since I’ve arrived in the ROK (Republic of Korea) and I think I’m adjusting pretty well. There have been a few moments where I think to myself “Where am I? What did I do??” but it’s been mostly fun and exciting. I’m stretching myself beyond my comfort zone and I’m proud of myself for not letting things bother me that may have in the past. Well, at least not too much, haha!

The one thing I’ve found since I’ve arrived is how self-conscious I feel being a minority. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for people who are different, but it’s very strange being that person. I get stared at every single day, and sometimes not so discreetly. There have been countless times that I absolutely know I am being talked about. The natural human curiosity is a fascinating thing. The first week, I found myself walking with my head down, no eye contact and very nervous when I was on the street or on the subway. However, I realized that most of these stares and whispers are mostly because people are interested, not hostile. I’ve started to look people in the eye when they stare, and return it with a smile. Most of the time I get one back, sometimes I don’t. It’s an empowering, strange feeling. It’s making me feel more self-confident, but also humbling me at the same time. It’s hard to describe.

As an American living abroad, I want to make a good impression on behalf of my country. I worry so much about the stigma of a “rude, obnoxious Westerner” and I hope I break that stereotype for the people who expect it. I am well aware that I am a visitor in this country, and I want to respect the culture and traditions as much as I possibly can. There are times when I get frustrated though, and have that embarrassing 5 second thought of, “Well, they wouldn’t do things like this in America! This is so weird!” Case in point: I just arrived at school this afternoon and the power is shut off from 2-4pm, to “check it,” as our head teacher explained. I had the brief thought that it was a really inefficient way to run building maintenance – why didn’t they check it at 2am instead of 2pm? Then I realized that they probably have a good reason, and it was arrogant of me to assume. Maybe they didn’t even have a good reason, but who am I to question? It’s actually fun, because all of us teachers are sitting in a classroom, working together for the first period of the day. And I’m able to write a blog post since I can’t access my online planning tools! ;)

I’m excited about what this year has in store for me. I think it will teach me a lot about myself, and I hope to come home with a new appreciation for what I have and what opportunities I’ve been given. So far it’s been nothing but feelings of gratitude and wide-eyed curiosity. Not a bad way to live your life if you ask me …

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Blog Tip

You can enlarge any of the pictures just by clicking on them! Some of you seasoned bloggers may know this, but just an FYI for newbies like me :)

KJC Munhyeon

KJC is one of the biggest schools in Korea, with branches all over Busan. I work in the Munheyon (Mun-hee-yun) branch, and it's a newer facility with lots of classrooms and highspeed WiFi. It's right off the subway line which was a relief my first few days. The kids range in ages from 5-14 and come in after their regular school day. I arrive at 2:15pm and usually leave around 9:15pm. I have one planning period at 5pm for 50 minutes. I teach 2 classes of 13 year olds, called Leap 2 classes, and 4 classes of 9-10 year olds called Hop 1 classes. Most of the kids are very sweet and good, but some of my adolescent kids are just that - adolescents. This one kid Leo, decided to cut up a red pen during class yesterday and smeared the ink all over his desk. Awesome. What is he, 5?!?! He's a little smart-alek and I can tell we're going to butt heads. However, I am determined to get him to pay attention and turn this around. I have to channel my mother :) Again, I am so awed that she did this for over two decades!
We have a teacher's area where I have a desk area, and I move around to three different classrooms throughout the day.
So far it's been great! There is a lot of paperwork and I'm still getting into my groove, but I feel really good about my first solo week. I think I've found my calling...

The front lobby of KJC - we are on the second floor ...

Our sweet receptionists at the front desk. Note the peace sign ... Koreans do this in almost every picture!

James, the director of our branch. He was the one who picked me up at the airport when I arrived. Very nice and drives a sweet Lexus :)

The hallway between classrooms (the Arts wing and the Nature wing) and leads to the teacher's lounge ...

Teacher's lounge - my desk is on the left, the chair with the black trench coat ...

One of my favorite classes - the Hop 1C group. They are all so sweet and eager to learn. They love hearing things about my life in America!

I love my job!!

Asian Apartment!

I apologize for the lack of posts since I started this blog. I'm a little intimidated by the fact that so many people will potentially be reading what I write. Will I be witty enough? Interesting enough? Cool enough? I kind of feel like I'm back in Junior High - blogging style. This has also been a bit of a whirlwind week because I've been teaching on my own since Monday. It's been great but definitely exhausting. I have a huge new appreciation for what my Mom has been doing for over 20 years. Go Mom! It makes me really proud and feels awesome that I'm living out her legacy, over 5,000 miles away. I will be posting pictures of my school and some of my students after this one.

Ok, on to the apartment! It's much bigger than I expected and I'm lucky enough to have a separate kitchen/laundry area. Most places for teachers here in Korea have a very studio-ish setup, so I feel like I hit the jackpot!

Here is the view when you walk in the front door .... the kitchen area is through the sliding doors

The view from my kitchen, and the kitchen itself ... the washing machine is below the stove - crazy! There is a rack above the window for drying my clothes. There is a pulley system so you can raise and lower it for easy access. So efficient!

Here is my bed (the pillowcases I brought even match the comforter that Brittany left me!) and the view from my bed. I have lots of storage space which is great. The TV still doesn't work (no cable) but hopefully it will be fixed by Monday.

The view of my apartment from the kitchen. Milo is on my bed, doing what he does 99.99% of the time - sleeping! The front door/foyer is on the left ...

My bathroom with the funny shower head above the sink. I actually prefer this over a separate shower now - really! It's so easy to keep the bathroom clean and you have tons of room and don't feel "boxed in." I'm a convert ...

Here's another one of Milo. He has no idea that we're in Korea - for all he knows we moved to Beaverton - ha!

That's it! There's also a little foyer-type area when you walk into the door, but it's not very exciting. I put my shoes on the floor (it's Asia, you take off your shoes when you enter someone's house) and there is more storage space.
I'm hoping to get a few more things on the wall in the next few weeks. It's very cheery though, with lots of light. I'm very happy in my new home!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Blogging for reals

Well, I'm here! In Korea and in blogger land, which to me are both foreign. I mean, I've been reading blogs for years now but I never had the guts and/or excuse to start my own. I guess living abroad for a year is a pretty good reason?
So far it's been amazing. I've only been here for 4 days but it feels like much longer. I was thrown into my job the day after I arrived but I think that was a good thing. Two days of training, a weekend (Halloween craziness, no less!) and I start teaching on my own tomorrow. Eeek! I think I'm ready though. Of course I'll probably show up 2 hours early just to prepare because I'm an intellectual perfectionist like that.
Halloween was a blast. Went and saw a friend's band play into the wee hours of the morning and managed to stay out until 2am. That's huge for jet-lagged Lindsay standards, but weak sauce by Korean standards. Oh well. My late-night stamina will just need some practice.
I've spent this lazy Sunday puttering around my apartment and going for a walk around the city. I'm still getting my bearings but things don't blur into a sea of neon anymore like they did the first few days.
I'm having trouble with my Korean washing machine which is frustrating, but there's a learning curve for everything. I'm hoping one of my coworkers can help me tomorrow.
That's really all for now. As soon as I figure out how to post pictures on this thing, I will. Emily, can you help??