Wednesday, October 30, 2013
I forgot until I wrote the date in my journal this morning: October 31, 2013.
I'm not a great fan of Halloween.
I can't remember the last time I dressed up.
But suddenly, I want to.
Where are all the freaking pumpkins?
I'm missing it probably because I can't have it.
My birthday is on Monday. Twenty-six years on planet earth.
My Facebook and Pinterest pages have exploded with people in America posting artifacts of fall:
Pumpkin spice lattes
This morning, I listened to a message from my Mom filling me in on how our family will be spending the holidays:
Thanksgiving in Colorado.
Christmas in Nebraska.
And us in Korea.
Where we chose to move.
This is a decision we made.
But these are the types of emotions you can't predict until the moment they hit you.
The moment they become real.
"We live in Korea."
When I'm tempted to be bitter (ya know, that people will be celebrating holidays and stuff. . .), I know it's time to be grateful:
For this experience.
For the opportunity to even have this experience.
For privileges I enjoy simply because I was born white and American.
For my health.
For a job where I earn an income.
For money in the bank.
For a cozy place to sleep at night.
For family and friends who support me.
In all honestly, I can even be grateful for this crummy feeling of missing people I love,
because some folks don't have people to miss.
'Tis the season to be grateful.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Someday, I will be 83.
I'll have more years behind me than years ahead of me.
My hair will likely be a different color.
A color that says, "I'm obviously not 22, but I'm not dead yet either."
My skin will hang a little lower to the ground.
As it tends to with decades of gravity's pull.
My eyes may appear tired. Or fully alive.
Depending on the words you choose to use.
My body may be rounder. And maybe a little softer.
Because that's the only way to survive the world anyway. Being softer.
I'll look different on the outside, but I'll still be the same me on the inside:
insecure and confident
fragile and tough
usually all at the same time.
At 83, I will still be that girl who played basketball with the best of 'em, shook her bum to Zumba, indulged in the pleasures of life, ran naked through the sprinklers, had a career, a marriage, and a life full of every good thing.
At 83, I will still be that girl who battled a mental illness with every fiber of her body and won, who cried when she felt ashamed, fought the good feminist fight, traveled the world, and got into riled debates about politics and religion and poverty and how to live in the world.
But most everyone who knew me as that girl will be gone. Dead. Deceased.
And it will be hard to convince people that I ever lived at all.
My Facebook friends will have diminished from 800-something to 200-something.
The cycle of life won't surprise me nearly as much as it did before.
But it will still break my heart.
My photographs will be unprinted files on a computer hard drive somewhere.
And they'll probably be in some format that makes them "no longer supported by this device".
Or any device. Sucker.
At 83, my memories may be disappearing slowly, but they'll still be in there somewhere.
And that doesn't mean they didn't happen.
That doesn't mean I didn't matter.
And a twenty-something girl will look at me with palpable pity and think, "What a simple soul. If only she understood the world I live in now."
And I will look at her with longing and think, "What a simple soul. If only she understood the life I've lived and how much I want her to know about it."
And young people will come visit me and talk to me about the weather.
To be kind. To humor the old woman: "because she just loves chatting and playing 'Angry Birds' on her iPhone, just like the olden days." Eye roll.
And they'll say, "I can tell you were beautiful when you were younger."
And I'll say, "It breaks my heart that you can't see how beautiful I am now."
This is the week that...
-we Skyped with my lovely family
-I missed them
-we started planning our travels for winter break in January
-this made me quite excited
-we played volleyball with people who make us laugh
-we started (more) Korean lessons with our new friend, Jong
-Jeremy took me on a date to a burger place that specializes in bop burgers (or burgers made with piles of rice molded to look like a bun). It was interesting.
-we got paid!
-we went to an indoor climbing gym
-we slept in on Saturday morning until 10am and drank coffee
-I was "gifted" a sizeable stack of rice cakes and turned it into bread pudding for breakfast. It was incredible!
-we went swing dancing downtown and we were happy
Monday, October 21, 2013
Nearly everything in Korea tends to be an adventure simply because it's brand-spankin' new and we must learn how to do it in a foreign language. This trip was no exception.
Bought tickets for Songnisan.
Got on the right bus.
We were feeling pretty accomplished before we even made it to the park!
We arrived to a small town, got off, and followed the other hikers. They are easy to spot because they all tend to dress the same: hiking boots, colorful patchwork Black Yak pants, soft shell jackets, usually hat, usually gloves, and trekking poles. They are legit and all seem to wear "the uniform" to prove it. Quite impressive! I'm not the only one who thinks so... (check out this guy's Korean comics from a foreigner's point-of-view).
|We stumbled upon Songnisan in the midst of what we later found out is the weekend Autumn Festival. There are numerous street vendors with fresh produce, wood works, roasted chestnuts, Korean pancakes, corn dogs, waffles, and jewelry.|
As we walked a woman at one particular stall said, "Hola!" We did a double-take and saw a young woman was indeed not Korean!
"Hola?" we asked.
"Hola!" she repeated.
We continued speaking to her in Spanish and came to find out she is from Ecuador and was selling her bracelets and wares that day at the festival.
No sooner had we met our first Eduadorian in Korea, did we turn and spotted a Native American music and dance performance. That's right. Full head dresses and moccasins, playing drums and flutes, and selling CDs. We were blown away.
Finally, we made it through town and continued following the stream of hikers to the entrance of the national park.
(it is highly likely that I will never remember the correct way to hold the camera when taking videos)
What we thought would be a nice little hike, turned out to be more of a trek than we expected.
The route was quite vertical in places and we were quite tired when we got to the top. But the view was totally worth it. Three-hundred and sixty degree views: beautiful.
We didn't stay long before we realized the top of the mountain was quickly vacating. We started the long hike down. Oh, the knees! We chased the sun down the mountain and around corners and finally made it back to a street light just as the sun had completely disappeared and we were now in the dark!
On our way down we realized we had no idea when the last bus left Songnisan. Luckily, we made it back in time. We even had time to take-in a bit of whatever this was:
We grabbed some juk at the convenience store before boarding the bus (which all came back-up about 30 minutes later because what was supposed to be a one hour and forty minute bus ride turned into an hour). Thanks crazy bus driver!
It was a rough ride home, but we collapsed happily once we got there.
And we've been moaning about our aching muscles ever since.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
-We really like Korea.
-We like our jobs.
-We are learning a lot.
-We've grown closer since we are literally all the other person has.
Most awesome things we've experienced thus far:
-Being welcomed and embraced by our Korean co-teachers
-Slowly making friends on this side of the world
-Any time we've gotten outside and been able to go hiking
-Random Korean people who help us when we are lost
-Meeting people from all over the world: the U.S., Canada, Ecuador, the Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, the U.K., Thailand, China, India, and South Africa.
-Standing stupidly on one side of a glass door waving my hands and dancing trying to get what I thought was a sliding glass door to open. The host at the restaurant roller her eyes, walked out from behind her stand and over to the door, pulled on the handle, and "let" me in. At that moment, you can't really explain yourself, because you just look like a fool who couldn't/wouldn't open the door for herself.
-Ordering bi bim bop at a restaurant, it usually comes in a large bowl with a collection of smaller bowls and side dishes. Upon looking at the large bowl, I asked the waiter, "Bop?" (which was my best attempt at asking, "Where the rice?"). He looked at me for second, trying to figure out if I was kidding, and lifted the lid on the only dish I hadn't looked at, and pointed: "Bop." Again, no explanation. No chance of redemption. Just foolishness.
-One day at lunch in our school cafeteria, I asked the co-workers I was sitting with, "How do I say I want more of this rice stuff?" Being that the lunch ladies, don't speak English I wanted them to teach me how to say in in Korean. They spent the next two minutes (at least) repeating over and over again the phrase I wanted to use. In the midst of this repetition and confusion, a lunch lady appeared behind me and exhaustedly plopped a big bowl of the "rice stuff" in front of me and walked away.
Random moments, that need to be shared somewhere:
-The lovely moment when I'm walking down the street and simultaneously I will say, "Anyoung haseyo" and they'll say, "Hello." We smile.
-For the assessment at the end of each chapter in our English textbook, there is a listening portion with a CD that the kids listen to. In between each section of the test they play Mexican mariachi music. Is this intriguing to anyone else?
-When I ask my co-teacher a question about how I should do something and she wants to say, "It's up to you" or "You decide" she almost always says, "It's your mind." I love it so much.
-A teacher at school comes to my office and says, "Can you teach me the correct pronunciation for this song?" It's "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." What followed was an impromptu performance that drew crowds (okay, three 6th grade boys) and earned a standing ovation. She directed me to sing melody (correcting my key along the way), ordered another on-looking teacher to sing harmony, and she chipped in with the "weembah-wops." It was delightful.
-When I got back to school the day after my hospital visit, my co-teacher said, "I'm so worried about you. I'm going to take you to the hospital after school."
I said, "Why? I'm feeling fine now. The doctor said as long as I take the antibiotics, I should be fine."
She didn't look impressed and said, "A blood infection is quite serious."
Huh? "I didn't have a blood infection," I told her. "I had a bladder infection."
"Oh! What's a bladder? I feel a lot better now."
-During class, we were learning the English words for parts of the body. Mrs. Che explained the English and Korean words for each. Now that she knew "bladder" she explained it in Korean and then turned to me and said, "What is...um...the road? You know from the bladder? What is the road that it takes to get out?"
I looked at her in confusion and said, "The road? I have no idea."
A few minutes later she shouts, "Urethra. It's a urethra." The kids all repeat "urethra" and mumble it as they take notes.
The kids were so blessed to add that word to their limited vocabularies as well. Joy. I still give her a hard time about that one: "Mrs. Che, tell me about 'the road'!"
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Things like reading up on cultural norms and how to adjust to them.
Things like taking a few familiar food items to get you started.
Things like being as flexible as possible and renaming "frustrations" as "surprises!".
However, one travel tip I didn't realize I'd left out until recently is this: ask what to do in an emergency.
On Sunday afternoon, I started getting this strange sensation and pain in my lower abdomen. I slept fine that night. Went to school. Was uncomfortable, but not unbearably so. Atleast not yet. No, that came later, like at 1am when things like this seem to happen.
I took a sleeping pill only to wake up an hour later, tossing and turning, 5 or 6 trips to the bathroom. After an hour I woke Jeremy up and said, "I think I need to go to the hospital."
The next thought in both of our minds: "Oh crap. We have no idea how to get to the hospital."
I had heard of a Korean tourist helpline offered in English. I called. Hit number 2 for English. A Chinese woman answers. Doesn't speak English. Tells me to call back in 5 minutes. I call back. She tells me, this is not a helpline for emergencies. "Right, I understand. But who do I call?" She tells me 1-1-9.
Dialed 1-1-9. Spent 15 minutes repeating, "Hangook mal moteyo (I don't speak Korean). Does someone speak English?" Over and over. I was transferred. I was disconnected. I was passed around like a hot potato, until finally, an English voice comes on the line. We miscommunicate between "do you want an ambulance?" (no) to "what is the problem?" (stomach pain) to "I can just take a taxi, but what do I tell the taxi driver? ("Chungbuk daehawkyo byeong won.") From this moment forward, I will never forget the Korean word for hospital: "Byeong won."
We gathered every possible document we would need in order to get medical care, and ventured out into the street to hail a taxi and get to the hospital. The two of us walked into the ER and the two Korean men on duty gave us a look I've seen several times that means, "Uh oh. Do you speak English? I don't speak English? Not it!"
We navigated showing appropriate documents and signing here, here, and there. A nurse pulled me to a bed and (hurray!) she spoke pretty good English (which is extra impressive when you're using medical terminology!). The nurse ordered a urine test, a blood test, and an x-ray.
My bed was next two a few dozen others. Half a dozen were full of other patients laying in hospital beds hooked up to IVs, shielding their eyes from the intrusive flourescent lights. This is about the worst place to be at 2am on a Tuesday morning.
What a relief! At least it's something. There's a name for it: cystitis (inflammation of the bladder). He gave me antibiotics, some pills for pain, and sent me home.
We got home at around 5am and crashed in bed. I woke up around 7am, called my co-teacher, Mrs. Che, and tried to explain what had happened. I didn't tell her I wasn't coming into work, but I asked her if it would be okay if I didn't. I actually considered going in anyway. From what I understand of Korean work culture, it is of utmost importance to "appear dilligent." Gratefully, she talked to the vice-principal for me and he said I could stay home and rest.
Poor Jeremy had to go to work, but I slept another few hours, and have been trying to relax here at home. I'm surely not in the pain I was last night, so I'm grateful for that. However, the information I'm finding on interstitial cystitis isn't super comforting. If you have any information or tips or stories, please share them with me!
I cannot explain to you the incredible helplessness of being in a foreign country in such pain in the middle of the night and realizing you have no idea how to get your needs met. However, in a way, this is what I signed up for. It is no one's fault that I was stranded in the middle of the night needing help. It is not Korea's job to ensure that there is an English speaker at every corner for me to talk to. So I am incredibly grateful that I was able to get the help I needed eventually. Plus, Korean health insurance is pretty awesome so the whole thing (tests, antibiotics, and visit) cost only $118.
I feel quite taken care of.
Jeremy called during his lunch break.
A co-worker from school text me: "Heather, I heard you are sick. What's wrong? Are you okay now?"
And another co-worker: "Are you okay? Get well soon. I miss you."
Then, Mrs. Che called to check on me.
So my new travel advice goes like this:
#1. Ask what you should do in case there's an emergency. Who will you call? Where's the nearest hospital? How will you ask for help in the local language?
Monday, October 14, 2013
Bob and Trish offered to show us around, so we made it to Daejeon and found lunch: Korean juk (pronounced "jook"). It's like a savory rice porridge and most closely the Korean equivalent of chicken noodle soup. You can order it with chicken, tuna, kimchi, sweet potatoes, and more.
From here, we ventured to the mecca of our journey:
We don't have a lot of space in our apartment and we surely don't have refrigerator space, so we were a bit limited in our purchases. But this was probably for the best, as the four of us filled up an entire shopping cart of goodies and didn't have much money to spare.
Check 'em out!
(but keep in mind, the views of these videos do not necessarily reflect my own)
This one is about how different the objectives of education are between Korea and North America. This vlog reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a Korean teacher/mother who lived in Oklahoma from 2007-2010. Her family moved because of her husband's military position. I asked her about the differences in education between the two countries and she said, "Often, my boys miss American education. They had so much fun. They actually enjoyed school. Here they are miserable. In America, they ask their students 'what will make you happy?' and in Korea, we ask them, 'what will make your family successful?'"
This is a good description of what I've experienced as far as reactions to foreigners (a.k.a me). There's a lesson coming very soon in my English classes about how to talk to foreigners. The kids at school will often yell random English words at me, sometimes coherent, sometimes not. I think that because foeigners ("waygooks" in Korean) are fairly new, this tip will be important so they don't get smacked. Not by me, of course.
The fashion sense in Korea is a puzzle to me. It's different. I'm adjusting. Many women are incredibly modest up top and all-party down low. It's always intriguing trying to define words like "beautiful" and "modest" depdning on what country you are in.
And lastly, Korean stereotypes. I, honestly, haven't encountered much of this (that I know of...). But we've also only been here for a few weeks.
There you have it.
Again, I am not an expert and neither are Martina and Simon.
These are just their opinions and observations.
But SO interesting.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
"We are adjusting. It takes time," I replied. "Sometimes we miss home."
"But you are lucky," she said, "because you have each other. He is your home."
Her comment was so painfully sweet and incredibly accurate, it made me think of this song: "Home is wherever I'm with you..." I've been thinking about it for awhile now.
We've been married one year and five months. And there are so many opportunities for us to bicker and nag, but still, he's the only home I've got. I think being here together reminds us of that daily. We can fight about this or we can enjoy this moment, because there's no where to run. No one else to talk to. We live in a freaking ONE room apartment. We have to come back together. Sooner is always better than later.
Here are a few things I've learned (been reminded of) in the past month:
-I have a habit of turning little things into big things
-Jeremy is wonderfully patient
-It's too easy to say, "Never go to bed angry." Sometimes, you just have to. Sometimes, you should. Sometimes you should fight until the bitter end, other times you should just let it go.
-Numbing ourselves with TV and internet also numbs us to each other. We cut back a few hours and feel much more connected. We talk more. We create more. We laugh more.
-Try as I might, his love language isn't changing any time soon. Neither is mine. We constantly have to negotiate how to love each other better. Five years of relationship and a year+ of marriage still finds us forgetting this.
-He is my home. And that's no small thing.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
On the street.
On the bus.
In a restaurant.
At the grocery store.
Just about everywhere.
There are often times when one of my co-workers will hurry up to me, huffing and puffing, from just running upstairs to my office with a befuddled look on her face and say something like, "Chicken!" and motion toward the door. Like, "Duh, we're eating chicken downstairs! Didn't you get the memo? Come on!"
No, I didn't.
Or the occasions (this has happened twice) when a herd of students will walk up to me. Smile. Giggle. Search for words. Blurt out random English words. Take me by the hand. Lead me to their classroom. Say, "Interview, teacher." And then point a video camera at me, ask me some questions, and then, walk away. Without saying anything else. Not "Goodbye" or "Thank you." Nothing.
So yesterday, upon sitting on the toilet and hearing sirens screeching throughout the school, I did my thing, and stepped out assuming I'd get the memo shortly. At this point, my co-teacher Mrs. Che comes running/shuffling toward me yelling, "Run or hide!"
"Why?" I asked her as she swept past me waving toilet paper behind her.
"It's too late, just come on!" she said over her shoulder.
So, I did. Everyone else was running outside too, so I just joined the crowd. On our way out the door, I saw a little kid laying on a gurney, though no one seemed too concerned with him. It was at this point--and I promise you, no sooner--that I realized: Oh, we're having a fire drill.
I watched students and teachers run to the open field farthest from the school and get into rows. Two teachers stood by with fire extinguishers. A fire truck waited at-the-ready in the parking lot. Mrs. Che handed me the wadded up toilet paper and said, "Mask."
"Mask? For what?"
She pointed up to the third-story window where there sat a can of...something, that was sending orange smoke billowing into the afternoon air. Sure enough, soon we were coughing. And the whole situation needed explanation from one of my co-workers, Mr.Young.
So, we've got the entire school building evacuated. A kid laying in a gurney. Orange smoke. A bon fire in a box. And the fire department. THIS is a fire drill!
|The teachers used fire extinguishers to put out the bon fire.|
|They even used a hose. Just to be sure.|
After all the "fires" were safely put out, everyone assembled to hear the fire chief give a speech. Something about the 6th graders who were lagging behind and the importance of fire safety.
As we were walking back inside, I asked Mrs. Che, "Why were you yelling at me to 'run or hide'?"
"Because next time you'll know better than to sit through a fire drill. Next time, you should just hide!"
I tried to assure her that this was quite exciting for me and I'm glad I got to see it. I mean, for goodness sake, I was taking videos! She gave me that look that she does once in awhile with her head tilted to one side, like, I don't understand you. But she smiles sweetly and seems to love me anyway.
Do you understand now why I carry my camera with me always?
The kid on the gurney never actually made an appearance. I'm not sure what happened to him.
In the last 24 hours, we played volleyball with people from the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, and Canada.
We ate curry and drank mango lassis at a Nepalese restaurant downtown.
We watched our new favorite British show Downtown Abbey.
We drank coffee imported from Columbia and made it with our French press (which was patented by an Italian, I just learned).
We soaked up the goodness of Thai massages.
We ate a new (to us) Japanese food called shabu shabu.
Yeah, it's a thing.
|This is us with Bob and Trish|
|The view was lovely|
|We hiked around the mountain and saw the remains of the fortress|
|Bob and Trish like to take pictures doing acrobatics.|
|We like to take pictures standing. And smiling.|
Then, we were pooped, so we went back to their apartment to make curry.
Curry back story:
When I was in Cambodia, I met an older Pakistani woman on the street. She was chasing away dogs with her walking stick, I was sitting on the curb. She sat down next to me and we became fast friends. She said, "You teach my grandson piano, I teach you curry." Deal.
She taught me some basics, but what I make is far from authentic. It's just what has morphed into my version of what she taught me. However, I will tell you this tip, in her words, "Every good curry starts with onions and tomatoes. Always onions and tomatoes." Got it?
We were making curry for four of us, but we ended up feeding six (plus two servings of leftovers). So let's say this recipe serves eight. Adjust as you see fit.
|This is what we used|
|Obviously, we would start with onions and tomatoes.|
|We cut up three onions and sauteed them in a bit of oil.|
|Cook them until they look like this. Soft and golden-ish.|
|We chopped the veggies pretty small so that they would cook faster. |
If you are a patient person, you would add your other veggies to the sauce and let it all simmer together.
|The rest of us will steam them separately in a little bit of water and add them later.|
|Once the tomatoes and onions have gotten a bit soupy, add two or three cans of coconut milk and simmer at a low heat. |
At this point add salt and curry powder to taste.
|Three teaspoons=incredibly mild. |
Five teaspoons=a little, teensy kick.
Seven teaspoons=getting hot!
|Adding chicken or tofu (or some other protein) to your curry is optional, but easy. |
I just fry it up separate and plop it in with everything else.
If I were a really experienced food blogger, I would insert a picture of the finished product...
However, we were so dang hungry, we ate it all up without even thinking about taking a picture. But trust me, it was SO good! Even some Jehovah's Witnesses were drawn to us by the aroma and we invited them in for curry. They said it was good.
|Afterwards, Jeremy tried his hand at juggling.|
|And I impressed absolutely no one at the batting cages.|
It was a great and memorable day. We are grateful for the fresh air, new friends, and good food!