Saturday, February 22, 2014

Number Seven

In our 21 months of marriage we have moved 7 times.

That's maybe less impressive/crazy when you consider that two summers we up and moved to summer camp for a few months. Either way, we are familiar with moving. With packing. With boxes and Sharpies and organizing and unpacking and settling in all over again. And while admittedly, moving is kinda tiring, I'm grateful for the opportunities that have lead us to pack up our lives. Again.

Opportunities, like summer camp. In our twenties!
Like having parents who take you back in.
Like getting that first apartment.
Like moving overseas.
All good.

And now, we're just moving a few blocks away to a larger apartment that kind of landed in our laps. Yay. It will only be a bike ride away from school for both of us and will give us more space to move about. Which oddly enough only became a real "problem" when we found out two months ago that we would be moving. Before that we had quite graciously settled into our one room and found it tight, but cozy. But isn't it funny how you can be completely happy in one place until you find out that something better is now an option?

Yeah, once we heard about the larger apartment, bumping butts in the kitchen/living room/bedroom was no longer "cute," it was just annoying. So WE HAVE MOVED!

See that cool chair we found in the trash? 
Jeremy walked three blocks with that thing on his head.
That's dedication.

Once we were all packed up, the movers--two oldish men, I like to think are best buds from the way they worked together--showed up a good 20 minutes early, just as we were shoving the last of our cereal in our mouths. They spoke no English, we spoke (basically) no Korean. They talked. We smiled and shrugged our shoulders and tried to call my co-teachers. But eventually, we communicated what we needed to and were well on our way.

After our co-teachers arrived, they translated that the movers were surprised by how much stuff we had. They thought they were moving one person from the one-room, but were quite shocked that out came two!

Is this not a genius, pain-free way to life boxes? They carried everything that way.
We're never going back to the other way again.

Then, we said goodbye to our sweet little corner of the world. I'll admit, it was kinda sad to walk away from our first and only "home" not quite knowing what was ahead of us.

Then, we got to our new home and frankly, forgot how freaking-awesome it was! 
We weren't even a smidge sad anymore. 

Welcome to our new home! 

This is the view from the front (white) door looking into the entry way 
(that's right, we have an entry way) and then into the rest of the apartment.

This is the living room and master bedroom on the left (that's right, we have a master bedroom). 
Then, there's a second room to the left of the master bedroom.

Then, there's a second room (a guest room, if you will) to the left of the master bedroom.

This is excited-Jeremy dancing in the kitchen.
We kind of don't know what to do with all this space!

This is slightly-less-excited Jeremy as he looks around at all the work we have to do.

And the next morning, this is content-Jeremy eating crepes in our new home.

Our bedroom (before).

Our bedroom (after).

Our bedroom in our new apartment is about the same size as our entire old apartment. Yay!

We've spent much of the last 24 hours laughing at how incredibly blessed we are to have this shiny, new home in Korea. Thanks for the thoughts and prayers. We'll give you more updates as we do some more settling in.

Monday, February 17, 2014

What Grey's Anatomy is Teaching Me About Living

You know what's a really great thing?


It's just so nice. Ya know, to breathe. Through your nose. Easily. And this seems no special thing to someone who is healthy, but often you feel the importance of something only when it's gone. So the last two weeks that I've been sick, I've been highly appreciative of every extra ounce of air that has found its way back to my nostrils. And now a couple times a day, I tell Jeremy, "Breathing is just so great."

But the same is true of nearly everything.

We only appreciate breathing because we've been sick.
We only appreciate warm weather when it's cold.
We only appreciate water when there isn't any.
We only appreciate time when there's none left.

Doesn't some kind of loss always come before some kind of gain?

Jeremy and I have been watching a lot of medically-themed TV lately. Mostly, Grey's Anatomy. We found all ten seasons on-line and to say we're gorging ourselves on Grey's would be an understatement. We're quite enthralled (i.e. five-episode, late-night Grey's Anatomy marathon just last week). And with all this medical-speak in my consciousness lately, I'm probably becoming more and more of a hypochondriac than usual.

There are just so many ways to get impaled by a tree.
So many ways to get cancer.
Innumerably terrifying ways to die.

And my gut response to this is to Google: "cancer-free diet"

Which, honestly, isn't so bad if it were only about a Google search. But it's based in fear. Based on the notion that there just isn't enough "health" to go around. Somebodies always gotta die.

And this makes me consider all of those hospital patients on the show who are absolutely stunned that they are the ones who got sick. That they are the ones with the diagnosis they always expected for someone else. Because no one plans on tragedy, it just happens. And when it does, the patients always lament, "And we never even went to Paris."

So while eating a "cancer-free diet" may be a good short-term preventative measure, I've been thinking a lot lately about living a darn good life. Because that's always what we crave when life throws us a curve ball. We don't long for more money, we long for more moments.

And while life has its necessary waiting rooms, gas station fill-ups, and weekends spent alone in front of the TV, we are also given opportunities. Blessings. Luck. Joy. And lately, I've been making it a practice of noticing them. Of writing them down. Of saying them out loud.

Because these are the things I want to remember.
These are the things I want to cherish.
Not only when and if there comes a day they are no longer available to me, but right now.
Can't I be grateful for breath everyday?
Can't I appreciate the chilly weather now because I'll be wanting it in August?
Can't I relish Saturday morning coffee with my husband now in case there isn't a "forever"?

Let's meditate on that and listen to my recent favorite song...

On a regular basis, I shake myself and remember a few things:
I am healthy.
I am wealthy (simply because I'm not actually poor).
I am blessed.
I am loved.
I've been living in Korea FOR SIX MONTHS (woot) with the man I love.

And the blessings just keep coming.


We are lucky, Jeremy and I.

Lucky to live in Korea.
Lucky to have each other.
Just plain blessed.

For Valentines day, Jeremy got me two incredibly thoughtful gifts. Gifts I love, but also gifts that made his younger cousin say (via Skype), "Huh? You got her what?"

Gift #1: He went to buy me flowers, but smartly realized flowers die. But a Christmas cactus? A Christmas cactus is forever.

Gift #2: Strawberries! That's right. The super rare, super extravagant splurge of fruit! We haven't eaten berries on this side of the world.

We aren't exactly diamond earring gift-giving people. However, we are chocolate and strawberry people so we made good use of both by having them on French toast.

Jerry was jealous.

And to top it all off, over the weekend, Jeremy took me on a date. We went to check out an art museum in town.

Now again, as I have before, I feel the strong desire to describe for you the ins and outs of this process because unlike simply hopping in a car and following your GPS, going on a date in Korea involves public transit and a different language. It's always an adventure.

So, first Jeremy had to look up where we were going and get a co-worker to write it in Hangul. So flagged down a taxi, showed him the paper, and went on our way. Where we were dropped was not quite where we wanted to go, however, we didn't know exactly what the place looked like anway. So we just started walking and looking for signs. 

We asked one man "Ow dee eesawyo shin mesool gwan?" ("Do you know where this museum is?") A definite and exhausted, "No" and what we interpreted to mean, "Please leave me alone." His crosswalk illuminated. He walked away from us, but upon walking by another Korean on the crosswalk he passed us off to the next pedestrian walking toward us. Poor guy. He looked at us in surprise and had no idea either. 

Then, a woman "Shilay homnida" ("Excuse me"). Her face lit up. She started speaking rapidly in Korean and pointing. We just smiled, nodded our heads, and started walking. Before we rounded the corner in the direction she had pointed, I looked back and she was waving and yelling something at us. We just kept walking.

Not seeing anything resembling a museum, I asked a pack of middle-school girls, "Do you know where this is?" (pointing to the name). Giggles. "Yes," they said. 

"Okay, where is it?"

They motioned for us to walk forward. They shuffled awkwardly behind us, "leading" us in the right direction giggling and asking, "Where you from?" Then giggling. Swiftly they pointed to the right and walked away. 

We made it! 
And it only took six Koreans to get us there!

The Shin Museum of Art was small, but neat. It even had a cute little coffee shop. There wasn't a menu posted anywhere, but a server motioned for us to sit down and handed us a menu that was all in Korean. We kinda, sorta just covered our eyes, pointed, and called it good. 

Lucky us: strawberry-yogurt smoothie! Score.

From here, we were were pretty sure we could catch a bus to our next stop: Taj Mahal, an Indian restaurant we surprisingly hadn't been to yet. And since neither of us have smart phones, getting around town is always extra fun. We picked the bus we assumed had the best chance of getting us there. And again--so lucky--we asked a friendly foreigner on-board if we were headed in the right direction and we were! "Are you new to Korea?" she asked innocently.

Six months, folks.
Six months.

But we made it. And our new friend, Omar, at the Taj Mahal hooked us up with coconut lassi's, curry, and milk tea. And all was well.

This morning, my co-teacher asked me what I did this weekend. "Jeremy took me on a date!" I said.

"Boring," she replied.

"What? No. It was great!"

"No, I mean, talk to me in ten years. He won't take you on dates then. You'll be bored like me."

I'm not going to lose to much sleep over it because this guy is just plain quality.
And until then, I am one lucky girl. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

We're Moving

Did I tell you we are moving?

I can't remember if we shared this news, however, we've known for the past two months. Gratefully, we were able to score a larger apartment at no extra cost to us. Hurray! We move this weekend.

So to those of you who send us packages, the address is the same. They will continue to come here to the school's address:

Nampyeong Elementary School
Heather Bohlender
35, Wolpyeong-ro, Heungdeok-gu
Cheongju-si, Chungcheongbuk-do
Republic of Korea

And if you want to send us a letter, we can receive letters at our new apartment. So if you would like to mail us letters, please email me (hbohlender(at)gmail) and I'll give you our new address.

Much love to all of you.
Be well.
Take care.

Heather and Jeremy

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Chopped Liver

My husband is hot.

He's got this whole rugged "I don't care what I look like, but I just so happen to be hot"-thing going on. He's got these gorgeous blue eyes that are hard to look away from. He's strong and fit. And lately, he's been wearing scarves. Swoon.

I've always found him attractive, but Koreans find Jeremy extra-attractive.

Since we have arrived in Korea, I have lost count at how many times someone has commented about how handsome Jeremy is. It seems that he embodies some physical characteristics that make him extra appealing to Koreans. I don't know if it's the color of his eyes. His teeth. His build. His hairiness. There's just something I can't put my finger on and neither can they.

My co-teacher sees Jeremy riding his bike in winter (pants, jacket, scarf, face mask, hat--fully covered):
"He is so sexy, no?"

I show my students pictures of our recent trip to Cambodia. And every time--without fail--all ten classes give out whips of glee at this photo and say,
"Oh teacher, your husband is SO handsome!"

And unfortunately, "What am I? Chopped liver?" Probably doesn't translate well (or accurately) in Korean. So I don't even bother.

When we walk down the street in Cheongju, I watch packs of middle-school girls do double-takes when they see Jeremy. There's always a glance. A second glance. A nudge to their friend. A point. A giggle. A hastened pace. 

The other day after lunch, my co-workers were talking about plastic surgery and attractiveness and such, and again, someone commented about Jeremy. So I made the joke that in America people always told Jeremy, "You are so lucky to have such a beautiful wife." But in Korea, people always tell me, "You are so lucky to have such a beautiful husband!"

Everyone laughed. I kinda laughed.
I'm totally jealous.

This is not the first--nor will it be the last--time that something about marriage absolutely surprises me. Brings me to emotions I didn't know I had. Makes me jealous. Makes me sad. Makes me furious. And after one year and nine months of marriage, we're figuring these things out one step at a time: not gracefully, but eventually.

Jeremy thinks this is funny. And really, so do I. So he was extra pleased when I told him what Yuna said the next day at work:

"Heather, do you remember yesterday?"


"Yesterday, you made a joke."


"A joke about people in Korea finding Jeremy more attractive than you?"

"Oh yeah, yeah."

"I was thinking about it last night. Thinking about how you feel about this. And I just wanted to say, it was a really funny joke."

I know Yuna, but it's totally true.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Impostors on the Road

Upon entering adulthood, graduating college, and getting married, I stumbled upon a feeling I didn't quite know what to do with. It was big and scary, but also relevant and real. A friend later called it
"the impostor syndrome." 

She described it as a time many of us go through when we enter into a new phase of life. It could be a new job. A new relationship. Or a new responsibility that seemed to be previously reserved for those who were older and wiser.

The impostor syndrome does silly things to your head because you start questioning.
"Is this real life?"
"Are we old enough to be getting married?"
"Am I really interviewing for a job right now?"
"Taxes? I can't file taxes. I'm just a kid!"

Basically, when did I grow up and step into these shoes? 
Why isn't someone trying to stop me?

That's how I've felt several times along this journey. Partly in coming to Korea and partly in our recent trip to Cambodia and Vietnam. There were so many decision to make: airfare, hotels, buses, visas, passports, currency exchange, vaccinations (?). Too much! I kept wanting to call my Mom and ask her what we should do.

But much of what made this trip memorable and meaningful, is that we made a lot of mistakes. We lost some money. We wore ourselves out. We got lost.

But as my Mom told me,
"You're never really lost. You might be misplaced for a bit. But if you ask around long enough you will find someone willing to help you. Lost is a state of mind, not a place."

So, now that Jeremy and I are back back, we're beginning to make heads and tails out of our recent adventure. Parts of it were awesome. Parts of it were horrible. And every journey is an opportunity to learn something new, so bring on the lessons.

Here are some things we've learned recently about travel:

Double and Triple Check the Countries Currency
This may sound obvious (as it did to me, a person who had lived in this country previously), but we arrived at the airport and exchanged nearly half of our dough unnecessarily. We got the local Cambodian riel, when we would've been better off with US dollars. It was a useless exchange that cost us money.

Research the Best Places to Exchange Money
We assumed it would be best in the country (and we were probably right), however, exchanging in the airport was a bad idea. We didn't know and wanted to have money accessible as soon as possible. And walking away, we did have the money, but less of it. We got a poor exchange rate and regretted this immediately. Check out some currency exchange tips here.

(And Again...) Research the Best Places to Exchange Money
We found ourselves in a situation where we had to have money quickly in order to secure a reservation. We walked to the nearest location, which happened to be a Western Union. I thought this was favorable since it was a name I at least recognized. However, we ended up losing over a hundred dollars exchanging Korean won to US dollars because of the fees deducted for the exchange. Ugh.

Visas Can Be Expensive, Take This Into Account When Planning
I knew that typically round-trip airfare is less expensive than a collection of one-ways, but we wanted to see Cambodia and Vietnam. So we opted to fly in and out of Phnom Penh and get to Vietnam by bus. However, what we didn't know until arriving was that the visas to get into Vietnam and the visas to get back into Cambodia cost over $200USD. A price we weren't expecting but could've found out with a little forward planning. Sidenote: I'm not necessarily upset that we did things the way we did, but a heads up on the cost would've been good.

Find Out If Your Credit Card Will Work Overseas 
(and tell your credit card company you'll be there)
There are varying opinions about the safety of using a credit card in some countries (and you should also consider the fees). Mostly for budgeting purposes we prefer to use cash, but at this point in our adventure we had to use an ATM. Luckily, there was only a $5 charge and no real problems. When we used our credit card to pay for our rooms in Vietnam there was a 3% charge.

Check Your Passport!
I found out that it is possible to run out of visa pages. I didn't know that before this trip. I had a few blank pages left, but they weren't "visa" pages, so they told me I would not be able to get back into Cambodia without them. And obtaining more pages is no walk in the park. You have to make an appointment with your local U.S. Embassy and usually they are booked out about a week. This was my case, but we showed up anyway and were able to schmooze our way in the door. But after a two hour wait and an $82 dollar fee, we were all set.

Also, check your expiration date. Some countries will not allow you to leave (whatever country you are currently in) within 6 months of its expiration.

Know How To Get Back
We worked with a travel agency that helped us get from Cambodia to Vietnam. They offered a good price, saved us a lot of hassle, and laid out all the details clearly. Then we tried to get back...We had not inquired about the the return trip. We spent half a day trying to contact the travel agency (that actually partnered with a separate bus company) trying to figure out if someone would pick us up or we would need to get to the boat docks on our own. Skype credit was helpful in this situation because we had to make several international phone calls.

Leave Space In Your Luggage
Inevitably, you will find some things you want to bring home with you: clothes, artwork, puppies off the street. So don't pack your bag to the brim. Depending on the airline, there might not be ridiculous fees even if you bring a whole 'nother bag.

And even a midst all of the money woes of our trip...

Don't Assume That Everyone You Meet Is Trying To Scam You 
(ever read David Sedaris' essay "City of Angels"?)
Because that's just no fun and I had some of my most interesting conversations with locals who were trying to sell me something I didn't want. Like a moto driver who was harassing me to take a ride I didn't need. I told him, "Happy new year!" and he said, "What do you know about New Year?" I told him I used to live in Cambodia and I was an English teacher. We got into an interesting conversation about income, education, the economy, and Cambodian politics.

So there you have it.
All the knowledge we have to lend.

We may be impostors just trying to get our act together, but we are pretty happy doing it!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

America is the New High School Cafeteria

I am a foreigner.

One look at me and you'll know I don't belong in this country.
I don't speak the language. 
I don't fit in with the culture.
I am an inconvenience.
Difficult for people to talk to.
A bother to taxi drivers.
And store clerks.
And bank tellers.
And anyone else in this country who tries to talk to me.

And yet, Korea has been nothing but good to me.

No one has ever said:
"This is Korea. Speak Korean!"

No one has ever said:
"Speak Korean or get out!"

No one has ever said:
"Watch out, the foreigners are all terrorists."

No one has ever assumed that because I am not Korean, I am a threat to society.
A threat to anyone's safety.
A threat to the Korean way of life.
To the "Korean dream."
To "everything Korea is supposed to be."

But frankly, if Koreans had any of these sentiments,
on some level, I would understand.

Korea is a racially homogeneous society.
They make up 98% of the population.
There's not a lot of diversity in Korea.
So, it wouldn't surprise me if the newness of Western society made them uncomfortable.
Even bothered them.
New can be hard.
That's okay.

So what I really do not understand, is how some in America--a country that was inhabited first by Native Americans and then claimed by some greedy Europeans--are so incredibly intolerant to diversity.

Yes, I saw the Coca-Cola advertisement. But I saw it differently from Korea.

We all have different responses, different feelings about hearing "America the Beautiful" sung in various languages. Some people are in awe at the beauty. Others are surprised and uncomfortable. It's okay to feel what we are feeling. It is not okay to use words like "terrorists" and "illegals" to describe people who may look different than you. And for whom, there is no evidence that they are "terrorist" or "illegal"!

Lately, I've seen the United States of America like a high school cafeteria. It's a big place with a lot of subgroups. And inevitably a select-few like to think they run the place (think the Mean Girls movie, "You can't sit with us!").

They sit at the cool table and they like to decide who's "In" and who's "Out."
Who's "American" and who's "Not American."
Their standards are high and often inaccessible.
And they think they wrote the rules of how to be American.
(America doesn't even have an official language!)

But, according to them, you can't just possess
a visa
a job
a family
and a long heritage in America.
No, you have to be white and you have to speak English.
(Otherwise you're an illegal immigrant?)

The cool table in America is usually whoever yells the loudest.
Or who has the most money.
Or the most Twitter followers.
Or who can best shock their audience.

Well, the world is made up of many different schools, with many different cafeterias. Some care greatly what America thinks of them, others could not care less.

So, congratulations: 
the world is (yet again) rolling their eyes at us.

I can't successfully explain this to my co-workers or my students. Their reasonable questions far surpass my ability--or need--to defend America. I just can't. I don't have the words to try to explain why it's okay for Americans to unfairly label people and tell them they should "get out" because they don't meet their standards. Because it's not okay.

I'm trying to grasp both sides of this how this but I'm having a hard time. So, if you can help me understand your point-of-view that may be different than mine, I welcome your kind-hearted and educational response.