Monday, December 30, 2013

This is a Day for Sweat Pants

I knew it when I felt it at the gym. When--in my mind--I started using words like "stupid" and "dumb" to describe things I saw in others and in the mirror. I could've continued this way all day. Fighting. Criticizing. Making myself crazy. Dreaming up extra-awful ways in which I am a failure at life.

But instead, in line at the grocery store, I told Jeremy, "Today is a self-care kind of day."

Partly because Mother Nature has rudely required it.
Partly because I've been going and going without a break.
Partly because every once in awhile everyone needs such a day.

This is a day for sweat pants.
And tea.
And crochet.
And Sleeping at Last on repeat.

This is not a day for accomplishing or achieving.
This is not a day for making brave New Year's resolutions.
This is not a day for getting my recommended daily allowance of fiber.
This is not a day for Pinterest (the ultimate "look-at-everything-you-could-be-but-aren't").
This is not a day for bringing up that painful conversation, just because it's on my mind.
Just because it stings.

This is not a day to beat myself up for everything I'm not.
This is not even a day to meditate on everything I do well.
It's just a day to be.
To sit.
To rest.
To let it be.

And it's a day to say it loud and let it go.

As part of an e-course I took part in on The Gifts of Imperfection, I took this photograph of myself:

I am imperfect and I am enough.

But then I thought, Why stop there? I need these reminders regularly. 

Even on days like this when I'm struggling to hold it together:

I am imperfect and I am enough.

Let. It. Go.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Since we joined our gym back in October, I've been using the elliptical and looking out the window. There are buildings and billboards, parking garages and road signs. At first, the signs were littered with designs that held little meaning to me. Just scribble. Just color. Just shape. Almost overwhelming to know that these symbols meant something, but that something was just out of reach for me. Before I knew the alphabet, all I saw were meaningless symbols. And in a way, it was freeing to be blissfully ignorant of what was written there. Before I understood the meaning behind the writing, it was decoration to me. And sometimes, quite beautiful. 

We've been learning Korean slowly, and day-by-day we've begun to identify those symbols as sounds and words with meaning. But with the license of someone who is new to the Korean language, I decided to paint a picture using these symbols only as designs without meaning. Not trying to form grammatically correct sentences. Not trying to make sense. And I can do that because I'm not expected to use this language correctly. 

Painting this picture was good practice in sounding out letters. But it was also a bit of a meditation on privilege. On the things I am both expected and not expected to be as a white foreigner in Korea. There's a bit more grace for me. I can write the alphabet like a 2nd grader. I can stumble over words. I can be playful with the language because no one expects me to be perfect. 

On this entire painting, the only actual words (at least, that I know of..) are written here in turquoise: ahn young ee gay say yo, which is "goodbye" but only when you are walking away from someone who is staying put. Our Korean teacher told us that the literal translation was something like, "stay in peace." 

And I just thought that was beautiful. And worth painting. And remembering. 

Haven't You Heard?

So, in case you haven't heard, K-pop is taking over the world.

Oh, have you not heard? I hadn't either until I landed in Korea. But now I know. And while I will probably never invest in downloads or a concert ticket, I have to admit that I find myself singing along in the grocery store and at the gym.

Do I know what they are saying? No. 
But do I mimic the sounds and act like I get it? Totally.

I am no expert, so please don't quote me on this, but I imagine that K-pop has been so outrageously infectious in Korea is because it's really quite new to them to have superstars speaking their language. While the rest of the world was warming up in the entertainment and show biz industries in the 50s, Korea was fighting a war, negotiating battle lines between the North and South, and re-building their country. 

And to their credit, in a short amount of time they've done some serious work to make Korea great. And popular. 

Here's a song I can't seem to get out of my head lately. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

This Is The Week That We...

-worked four regular school days because Christmas isn't really a big deal in Korea.

-made lemon poppyseed bundt cakes for our co-teachers for Christmas. It's tricky to conduct a large scale operation with limited counter space, but I made good use of the floor. And blending butter, sugar, and lemon peels with your hands instead of a food processor is tricky, but doable. 

-watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

-took one day off for Christmas and it was pretty great.

-hung socks next to the microwave and called them stockings. 

-Skyped with our families on Christmas. 

-felt a bit homesick after seeing everyone together.

-watched Ernest Saves Christmas.

-spent Christmas evening with friends who are gracious and kind.

-sat down to Christmas dinner to the exact same set of plates that my Mom has. And these aren't your run-of-the-mill plates. No, these are fancy, like from Germany or something. Somehow, it made me feel a little more at home.

-went ice skating. My co-teacher has been taking speed skating lessons and invited me to come along with another teacher from our school. I wobbled around on the ice for an hour while they danced and frolicked about. Afterwards, we ate jim-dock and talked about everything under the sun: how many bedrooms there are in my house in the States, the name of cities in Colorado, religion, North Korea, Los Angeles, what we wanted to be when we were kids, and how we all became teachers. It was really fun.

-were a little bit relieved that the holidays are over. Not because we hate Christmas. Not because we were miserable. It's just nice that the time of year most focused on spending time with good people (who are this year far away) is over. 

On to a new year!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Eleven Steps of School Lunches

Possibly the greatest education I have received about Korean culture has come from school lunches. 

Just like any other school, we eat lunch in the cafeteria. And just like any other school cafeteria, folks are not very fond of the food. Admittedly, I have some good food and I've had some bad food. Every day is an interesting escapade. But not just because of the food. No, there are certain behaviors that you have to learn. And when I stray from these steps, I am quickly corrected.

Step one: When it's time for lunch we all go together (the Korean word for "together" is 같이 or "gatchi." We do a lot of gatchi). Sometimes I'll say, "I'm just going to finish this and then I'll join you." But they sit down and wait. And then I feel bad. I've learned to just drop everything and go.

Step two: We all wash our hands gatchi.

Step three: We all cut to the front of the line in front of the hungry sixth graders. However, the practice of cutting involves standing near the line, waiting to be acknowledged, bowing to the homeroom teacher, and waiting for her/him to allow us in.

Step four: Take a spoon, two chopsticks, and a tray (no cups, no drink, no napkins). Hold the tray in the appropriate position. Bow and say "thank you"  (감사합니다  or gam sa hab nida)  as you get your food from each lunch lady. I've also learned important Korean words like: "Just a little, please" and "Pile it on!"

Step five: Sit down, look at food, make eye contact with someone to explain what the food is. This is always somewhat of a fun game because often there isn't an easily translatable equivalent in English, but they are very kind to take time to explain things to me using apps on their smart phones.

Step six: Then we dig in. Often, if something has gluten in it, I'll offer it to someone else at the table. There is a lot of reaching and grabbing with chopsticks across the table. Someone is always willing to polish off my kimchi. And there has not been a single day at lunch that kimchi was not served. I've gathered it's the equivalent of salsa in Mexico. A Korean-American friend tells me a traditional Korean meal always involves: rice, kimchi, a meat, and a soup. Lunch here usually looks something like this...

L: rice sticks, M: fried tofu, R: seaweed soup

L: duck, M: balloon flower (?), R: fried rice stick filled with cheese and drizzled in honey

R: some apple-flavored yogurt drink thing

L: cake, R: chop chay noodles (pretty good)

L: bi bim bop (YAY!) and a jumbo shrimp

R: silken tofu drizzled with soy sauce (not a fav)

L: I think these are Korean savory pancakes

L: seaweed wrappers (yum!)

L: sompyeon (a tasty rice cake

R: we have a lot of fried fish

M: sometimes we randomly have pizza

Between Jeremy and I's school lunches we have sampled:
-pork blood
-chicken feet/cartilage

Korean food is quite inventive. I've eaten things I didn't know even existed.

Step seven: If you are finished eating, you do not (I repeat)--do not get up. You wait until everyone is finished (gatchi, remember?). But while you are waiting, you should put all of your leftovers into one bowl so it's all together.

Step eight: We all stand up at the same time, dump our food, and put our trays away.

Step nine: Get a cup, drink some water, put the cup away, grab a tissue, look in the mirror, straighten hair and check teeth. Walk away.

Step ten: Everyone goes to the teacher's room and traditionally the youngest person in the room offers to make coffee or tea for everyone else. Making coffee means mixing Maxim coffee mix with hot water. Then, often people sit down to chat.

You thought you were done. No. When someone mentions work they have to get done and bows to say goodbye, then everyone kind of disperses. But NOT before....

Step eleven: Everyone goes and brushes their teeth together.

Lunch complete!